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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Scranton Mayor Courtright: What's the lesser of four evils?

The Scranton Times reported today that Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright hired the brother of a $10,000 political contributor to a non-advertised city job AND the gentleman in question has a criminal record AND the gentleman failed to disclose his record on the employment application.

Come on now, let's play a game called "Pick the lesser evil".

A.  Unadvertised Job
This is an oldie but a goodie.  Qualifications?  Now why would the City of Scranton actually advertise for an open vacancy?  After all, that might actually entail getting a qualified candidate for a job.  Besides, failing to advertise makes it convenient to just claim that someone just happened to ask him for a job at just the right time.

B.  Criminal Record
Heck, I'm all for second chances, so I barely count this one as an evil, that is until it's coupled with "C", below.

C.  Failure to Disclose
According to the Scranton Times, the gentleman in question just happened to leave his criminal history off of his original application for employment.  As an Human Resources professional, let me tell you what this really means (assuming the story is correct):  He LIED on his employment application when it came to a material fact.  For the record, he should be FIRED IMMEDIATELY for this single reason, but what the heck do I know?

D.  $10,000 Campaign Contributor
Forget local PACs trying to influence elections; who needs them? In Scranton it's still done the old fashioned way:  Direct contributions to mayoral campaign of (now) Mayor Courtright, to the tune of $10,000.  Oh, and I'm sure it's just a coincidence that this same contributor happens to be the brother of the alleged "convict-application liar-city employee".

So, what's the answer?  Well I kind of think it really doesn't matter, because all of the above are more than sufficient to come to the following conclusion:  Scranton's Mayor, Bill Courtright, is following in the worst of local political traditions by granting favors to friends and contributors that the non-connected with have not shot at getting.

Something stinks to high Hell in Scranton, and it's not the Sewer Authority.

Jigs up Bill Courtright, you just got caught.

Friday, May 29, 2015

A [Conservative] Religious Guide to Sabotaging Your Life (with commentary)

I read this on the Facebook page of Kissing Fish, which is a great source for religious thought that has more to do with compassion than it does control.  Anyway, you can find Kissing Fish, and this specific article, HERE.  As noted in the article, the original listing comes from Jim Palmer, Notes from (Over) the Edge.  You can find that book for sale HERE at

A 16-Step Religious Guide To Sabotaging Your Life:
1. Begin with the premise that there is something hopelessly and incurably wrong with you.
2. Believe that your humanity is an affront to God, an obstacle to overcome, and an evil to repress or eradicate.
3. Pin your hopes on the afterlife, and don’t get too attached to the herelife.
4. Mistrust what you most deeply think and feel.
5. Give others the power and authority to determine what your beliefs, values, opinions, goals, desires and views are.
6. Fear, reject, condemn and close yourself off from anything that doesn’t fit with what you got in #5.
7. Focus on behavior modification, checklists, do’s and don’ts, obedience, and keeping the rules when it comes to living your life.
8. Give up or kill off all your needs and desires as a sign of spiritual maturity and call it "dying to self."
9. Make sure everything and everyone in life is assigned a label or put into a box.
10. Label science, psychology and art as “secular,” “carnal,” or “worldly,” and stay away from it.
11. Consider talk of love, unity, harmony, peace, beauty and oneness as childish, foolish, idealistic or dangerous.
12. Draw a line between "sacred" and "secular" and divide up the world accordingly.
13. Divide the world up into "us" and "them," and stay away from "them" and judge them from a distance.
14. Lock up and throw away the key to your sexuality and get busy focusing on something that is holy.
15. Put forth a valiant effort to project and maintain an image that lines up with the expectations of your religious community, and hide the ways you don't.
16. Don't ask questions, rock the boat, challenge authority, think for yourself, or listen to that voice inside... just keep doing or believing even if it violates something deep inside of you.
- Jim Palmer

My commentary is in dark red text.  I'll confess that much of what I've written comes from my religious upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church, but some is also very applicable to other conservative religious systems as well.

* * * * * *

1. Begin with the premise that there is something hopelessly and incurably wrong with you.
I listen to conservative Roman Catholic radio from time to time, and it's amazing how true this statement is from that particular perspective.  Growing up, were told it was called "original sin", but that's a short-hand way of saying "you are incurably bad because of something Adam and Eve...well really Eve...did".  Of course for this to all to work one has to believe that Adam and Eve actually existed as human beings, living in a garden ages ago.

Anyway, believing that you are "bad" from the start creates a need to be fixed.  And the fix?  Well it depends on which group of mostly older white guys you happen to be exposed to as a child.

2. Believe that your humanity is an affront to God, an obstacle to overcome, and an evil to repress or eradicate.
This is the concept of an "Angry God", which I could never ever quite understand.  If God is all knowing and all seeing, He surely knew that this creation of His, namely man, would make mistakes.  Why then the anger at what He already knows is going to happen?  I know, "free will", but even then, an all-seeing and all-powerful God, existing outside of how we understand time, would already know how we are going to behave in any given situation.

3. Pin your hopes on the afterlife, and don’t get too interested in the herelife.
I'm sorry, but I do believe that you only get one life to live, so you need to live it well.  In truth, I don't think most people, even those who profess a strong religious belief, actually swallow this one anyway.  See Cardinal Bling (and countless others) for examples.  The worst part though?  Many religious really want YOU to believe this.

I also find this to be a great excuse for the whole "God wants you to suffer" line as well.  Saying that it's "okay to be poor" and "the poor will always be among you" are great lines coming from people that live in nice houses and who have more than enough to eat.

4. Mistrust what you most deeply feel.
Given that not everyone is able to articulate or understand what they "most deeply feel", I agree with the sentiment to a point.  A teenage boy may "deeply feel in love" with his first girlfriend, but that doesn't necessarily mean that this feeling is really all that deeply rooted or fully understood (such a teenage boy probably loves the idea of a girlfriend more than he actually loves the girlfriend).  The bottom line is that this point is dependent on the person and the situation.

Anyway, I do agree though that a large measure of control comes from the ability of some to get you to behave in ways that are contrary to your deepest feelings.  This explains just about every cult in the world.

5. Give others the power and authority to determine what your beliefs, values, opinions, goals, desires, and views are.
Sadly, I think much of religion comes from a desire to control behavior, not out of love, but instead out of a desire for the power that comes from such control.  Me?  I don't believe that God plays favorites.  This means that I have the same powers of moral discernment as any Bishop, Pastor, Rabbi, Cardinal, Imam or whatever other jobs come with funny hats.  I don't have the same dogmatic training as these kinds of folks, but my powers of understanding right and wrong are just as good as theirs (or maybe even better, as I've never molested anyone or anything, nor have I ever ordered anyone killed for writing a book either).    

On another note, some actually believe that the Church needs a greater role in secular society (read the book Return to Order by John Horvat for an example, a book which I actually did read...and which I will not promote via a link), which is frightening.  For the record, I find it interesting that some decry religious domination of secular society in some parts of the world, but seem to have no problem with it happening here.  

6. Fear, reject, condemn, and close yourself off from anything that doesn’t fit with what you got from the above.

Again, it's about control.  I firmly believe that God has given each of us the powers of logic, reasoning and compassion.  To deny the use of these gifts seems to me to be an affront to God.

7. Focus on behavior modification, checklists, do’s and don’ts, obedience, and keeping the rules when it comes to living your life.
I do believe in focusing on behavior modification, but not when it is directed from someone who inherently believes that they have been called by God to control me.  Yes, we all do need rules, but those rules need to be obeyed not because we are told to but because we know it to be right to obey them, and the underlying rationale behind obedience has to make sense.  For example, it's wrong to steal, something most of us understand.  However I don't understand the rule that says to Catholics that they shouldn't eat meat during Lenten Fridays, yet it seems perfectly okay to gorge oneself on pizza and seafood instead.  One of those rules makes moral sense; the other is just about control (and even then it doesn't seem to work).

8. Give up or kill off all your needs and desires as a sign of spiritual maturity and call it "dying to self."
Why would God create sexuality if he didn't want humans to express it?  Oh, and let's simply kill the "to procreate" argument right here and now because individuals who are sterile still (barring other conditions) have a need to express their sexuality, as do those who have aged beyond typical child-bearing years.  

9. Make sure everything and everyone in life is assigned a label or put into a box.
Let me be blunt:  Stupid people see the world as this "black or white, good or evil" affair.  Viewing things in this way I think is an assault of the very nature of creation, as it is a way of reducing the wonderfully complex universe into moron-sized chunks fit for human understanding.  Yes, some things are always evil, such as harming children or animals.  Other things, like political philosophies (be they conservative or liberal) are simply not.

10. Label science, psychology, and art as “secular,” “carnal,” or “worldly,” and stay away from it.
The ability to solve problems, the ability to create art, the ability to help others, the ability to better understand the universe all seem to me to be gifts from God.  Why would anyone think these things should be oppressed?

11. Consider talk of love, unity, harmony, peace, beauty and oneness as childish, foolish, idealistic, or dangerous.
Getting someone to deny the obvious seems to be hallmark of unhealthy control.  

12. Draw a line between "sacred" and "secular" and divide up the world accordingly.
I actually think we need a mix of both in our lives, although I also think that there are many "sacred" things that you will never find in a church.

13. Divide humankind up into "us" and "them," and stay away from "them" and judge “them” from a distance.
Here's a thought:  assume that all of God's creation is wonderful and worthy of respect, unless proven otherwise.  Go from there.

14. Lock up and throw away the key to your sexuality and get busy focusing on something that is holy.

See #8.  Believing that sexuality only serves the need for procreation seems, well, ridiculous.  I also think that the repression of sexuality is the cause of more than a few unhealthy things for many folks in our society today.  

Speaking of sexuality, there is also something of a paradox in this area when it comes to homosexuality: One has to believe that non-heterosexual behavior is a choice in order for it to be considered "bad"; if you don't believe that...namely that you believe that it is part of how some people are created...then the whole house-of-cards comes falling in when it comes to those against gay (also known as "human") rights.  Why? Well if it is not a choice, you must then believe that God made a mistake in creating gay folks.  How many hard-right social conservatives want to sign onto the "God made a mistake" bandwagon?  Not many I bet, but here's where it gets interesting:  If you believe that homosexuality is in fact a choice, then heterosexuals must then "choose" to be straight.  Yet as a heterosexual male, I could never "choose" to be homosexual; it's simply not who I am.  Nor could the Reverent Pat Robertson, I suspect, either.  If I can't choose to be straight, then others can't choose to be gay.  To quote my favorite fictional Vulcan, "Logical, flawlessly logical".

15. Put forth a valiant effort to project and maintain an image that lines up with the expectations of your religious community, and hide the ways you don't.
The sexual abuse of children by clergy and the resulting blindness to (and at times active covering up of) it is a great example.  It's worth noting that, while he is now a saint, the late John Paul II basically turned a blind eye the this issue (citation HERE from the National Catholic Reporter).  While listening to conservative Catholic radio one day, I heard a commentator defend the late pope by saying something along the lines of "...the late Pope was incapable of understanding that this kind of thing was happening within the Church...".  Sadly I agree, and for the record that's a pretty horrible defense.

16. Don't ask questions, rock the boat, challenge authority, think for yourself, or listen to that voice inside... just keep doing or believing even if it violates something deep inside of you.
Growing up in the Catholic Church, in those wild west days after the Second Vatican Council, it wasn't like the above statement; in fact, there seemed to be encouragement of individual thought.  Those days ended in the early 80's as the Church grew more conservative, more dogmatic and more inwardly facing.

I recall reading once that a certain conservative Catholic thinker describe that voice inside as being part of the "stain of original sin", with the implication being that any thoughts that arise questioning dogma must be impure.  How very sad.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why are people leaving organized religion? (Oh, and one more thing...)

A kind of, sort of follow-up to my previous posting on this topic (you can read it HERE).

After I finished the posting, as is sometimes the case with many postings, I had one of those "oh, I forgot to include ______" moments.  Never to let a good topic go, or miss an opportunity to be a lazy blogger, I'll add it here.  I'll call it "Reason #6".

* * * * * *

6.   In Crowd
Growing up I always felt somewhat on the outside, looking in, when it came to church.  As I grew older, I began to see why:  In most churches, as I suspect is the case with most organizations for that matter, there was a certain "in crowd".  It's easily understood on many levels in that we humans are social creatures; we like finding people like us to hang out and associate with.  In the context of church that could very well mean that pastors enjoy the company of those who are the most active in the church, but yet is that healthy?

I'd like to propose that there is a certain club of sorts in church today.  The problem though is that such a club is great for the established, but really, really bad for the un-established.  If we think about those who are seeking a greater connection with God in organized religion, how much more difficult is establishing that connection when you can't seem to figuratively get through the front door?  If the ear of a pastor is almost perpetually taken the by established, what capacity is left for anyone else?

In older days, you know when the concepts of blind obedience and command & control were in force, it was accepted that younger folks needed to play by the rules and then simply wait their turn to be at the front of the line.  That's not the case now, thankfully I might add.  Instead, modern society has created something of a democratization when it comes to spirituality; folks these days have this crazy notion that all might in fact be equal before the eyes of God.  The problem though is that such as concept is the antithesis of how organized religion actually seems to work.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Road Apples, #160

It's official...I have the digestive system of an 82 year old man.  At least two things that end in "itis" are lurking in my innards, and it's not pretty.  On tap will be a blood test (for anemia) and me trying to take some mental notes about what  foods seem to cause the worst symptoms.  So far I can rule out red meat (Yeah!  Although I had to eat hamburgers for two days in a row in order to conduct the "test".).  It's a contradiction of sorts:  You grow older and your head works better, but yet your body starts to just fall apart.  Who says God lacks a sense of humor?

You need a license for in getting married, so it was off to the county courthouse on Friday afternoon to get just that; the clerk who helped us was friendly enough, although one does wonder why they simply can't mail the license back to you.  As it stands, another trip will need to be made back to the courthouse annex next week to pick up the actual license.  

Local bloggers...I wish there were more local bloggers.  I check NEPA Blogs from time to time for new and fresh blogs, but alas, I don't often find much.  Granted I'm not interested in everything.  For example, blogs about being a good Mom are nice, but they are not my cup of meat.  I get that this whole blogging thing is an acquired taste, but still, some more local content might be nice.  I may just have to expand my search a bit.

Passport...It's official:  The United States government will allow me to actually leave the country.  I've never had a passport before, and I do confess that it's kind of neat to actually be in possession of one now.  Not that I'm traveling to any real foreign countries any time soon, unless you count Canada, which to me seems something like an extension of Maine, all be it with funny looking money.

Philadelphia...Yesterday included a trip to Philadelphia to celebrate Chris' dad's birthday.  I always enjoy my time with her family...they have a certain "spark" to them...especially Chris' parents...that is to be admired.  They are also simply very wonderful people.  It's my hope to, one day, have that kind of retirement, although I doubt I'll ever want to do as much overseas traveling as they do (but now at least I can leave the country, legally; see above).

Shutter to Think...One of today's projects was to replace the shutters on the second floor windows.  Taking the old shutters off was a chore (see THIS POSTING), but installing the new set wasn't quite so bad.  It was still kind of high up, ugh, and my innards were doing the Samba afterwards, but at least it's done.  Now we can officially say "it's the white house with the dark red shutters", which is pleasing to no end because of the plethora of "white houses with black shutters" that are in our vicinity.

Current Read...I'm currently reading "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle.  A book report is in the offing.  I will say that the core message, namely keeping your head in the "now", resonates with me well.  How he has stretched that message into an entire book is, well, a bit of a stretch, but that's commentary for another day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Take: Why Are We Leaving Organized Religion?

There has been quite a bit written over the past few months/years about the decline of organized religion in American society.  If you want a fairly recent treatment on the subject from an exceptionally informed author, I'd encourage you to read THIS BLOG POSTING by John A. Dick.  As for an opinion from someone maybe not so well informed?  Well read on.

* * * * * *

Let's start with a basic fact:  Americans are leaving organized religion.  It's mainly younger folks, but it's also happening for many of us older folks as well.  Here's some data from the folks at the Pew Research Center:

There's not a lot of spin that can explain a 7.8% decline in Christian affiliation within the span of 7 years.

So the bigger question is why, and since I can only speak for myself, I've noted that opinion directly below.

1.  Relevance
What's the relevance to going to church every Sunday and repeating the same prayers over and over again?  How does organized religion help us deal with an increasingly complicated world?

The answers as I see it seem to be, sadly, "none" and "it doesn't".

I can repeat the Nicene Creed 20 times and exactly how does this help my soul?  They are just rote words, memorized through decades of practice.  There have been countless religious people who led those prayers and yet clearly didn't believe them, as they were later convicted of horrible crimes.  Clearly, just saying the words has no real power.  In my mind there is no relevance in the rote repetition of words.  Form becomes more important than substance in many religious experiences.

Over the years I've found far more substance, far more relevance, far more help outside of organized religion than I ever found inside of it.  That's a sad and tough statement to make, but it has the benefit of being true.  My religious formation never prepared me for the moral questions I have to deal with as a functioning adult; instead it just instilled within me a set of memorized prayers and a tremendous amount of guilt for not following to a precise letter what was deemed to be a set of rules.

Sunday (or any day...) worship should be a time when we can reflect on who we are, why were are here and how we can live up to what God has in store for us.

2.  Command and Control and Guilt
When I was younger I would go to church because my mother commanded it.  When I was in college, I was actually the president of the Catholic student's group during my senior year.  I genuinely believed, I think, but part of that belief was embedded with the guilt associated with failing to act on religious indoctrination.  I went because I was guilted into going...I was afraid not to go.

Slowly but surely, as I grow older, I began to question the command and control structures that I was placed under as a child.  I began to see that many of the Priests I knew were surely good men, but yet they were just men.  That's okay by the way, but it just happens to run counter to how this was all set up for me when I was a child, where the Priest was, effectively a representative of Jesus on Earth.  That's too high of a standard for any man, but when you need to command and guilt people into conformity, it's a necessary, if not a nasty business.

Speaking of guilt, I've struggled tremendously in my 20's-40's with guilt by the way, and much of it has traceable roots back to my religious formation.  Feelings of "it ended up being this way because you acted that way" or "you're being punished for this" routinely pinged around in my sub-conscious.  It's actually pretty reasonable, in a perverse kind of way, when you consider for example the religious concept of Original Sin, whereby all of us are guilty as we enter this very world.  It was as if God kept some kind of cosmic accounting ledger, where you automatically started life off $1,000 in the red.  I learned, through several channels (a good chunk of it being religious formation though), to question every thought I had and every action I took, as if I were somehow incapable of doing most of anything right.

My religious education also instilled in me an artificial respect for authority which has not served me well as a professional.  In my head, it's not much of reach to go from "you must respect every Priest" to "you must respect every Vice President", even if neither the Priest or the Vice President were actually worthy of that respect.  Again, I've known many Priests who were/are certainly worthy of respect, but yet that's because of WHO they are, not WHAT they are, a fact that was not part of my religious upbringing.  That has been, and continues to be a tough thing to work through.

3.  No Closer To God
Nothing in my religious upbringing ever brought my closer to having a relationship with God.  How could it?  Why would God, for example, deems that newborn babies were sinners?  Why would God look favorably on someone who just memorizes and says the same prayers over and over again but yet doesn't either know or care what the words actually mean?  Why would simple repetition please God anyway?  Why was form so much more important than substance to God?

Mind you, there were a few moments in my religious formation where maybe the concept of really trying to understand the nature of God was touched on, but all of that was far, far outweighed by an emphasis on form over substance, memorization over genuine passion, conformity over originality.  I was taught the importance of "doing" things the "right" way...and the punishment for failing to do so...and very little about what God is really about.

4.  Old Narratives
I was taught that there was an actual Adam and Eve (see the concept of Original Sin, above), and yet it makes absolutely no sense.  The human race could not be the product of two fully formed modern human beings; the need for genetic diversity alone teaches us that if this were in fact true, our race would have died out long ago due to a myriad of defects.  It just doesn't make sense.

I was taught that all human spoke the same language at one time, that is until the whole Tower of Babel incident.  Yet this just doesn't make sense outside of the whole Adam and Eve narrative.

My point isn't to dismiss these stories, because I do think that stories have power.  However that power only comes when we can connect the story to something of importance today.  It also helps if the story is more than just a mechanism to try and enforce generational (and gender) shaming.  My only glimmering of hope in all of this were some of the Sisters of the IHM order who, over the years, at least tried to make connections between Bible, religious tradition and the reality of life for a teenager.

As we grow older and begin to question what we've learned, it's easy to see that many of these old narratives we learn in organized religion are designed with shaming and control in mind, and little else.  If anything, many of these stories paint a picture of God as someone who likes to harm and destroy, something that is interested in ego gratification via worship.  Why would a Supreme Being need to have an ego stroked?  Why would a Supreme Being decide to kill just about everyone on the world It created (Noah, flood, etc.)?  Oh, I forgot the whole "we are bad" part.  It just doesn't make sense.  If "God is Love" then how could "Love" destroy the world via Noah's flood?

These old narratives could connect to modern life.  They could be used to help us better understand ourselves, yet that wasn't my religious experience, and I suspect that's true for others as well.  Instead, they were used to paint a picture of an angry, selfish God who demands worship and punishes those who fail follow what are said to be God's rules...rules which strangely seem more like men's rules.

5.  The Emperor Has No Clothes (or is wearing bright red clothes)
"When you claim to speak for God you has better darn well make sure you have your 'stuff' together."

The above seems like a pretty reasonable statement, right?  Yet how many times have we, in this modern era where news flies at the speed of electrons across the Internet, seen moral failings on display by those who claim to speak for God?  Sometimes those failings are overt and harmful, such as the many religious accused of harming children.  Sometimes those failings are more like just blatant hypocrisy, such as my favorite hypocrite, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke.

(from THIS source)

Cardinal Burke is fond of many fine things and dresses as a prince, but yet I can't help but contrast his appearance with the biblical description of John the Baptist (according to the Gospel of Mathew, Chapter 3, verse 4):

"John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey."

What, no red hat?  No gold ring?  It's worth noting that Cardinal Burke is a staunch conservative, which means that he's rather fond of telling you just how poorly of a job Pope Francis is doing at any given moment.  In my mind, Cardinal Burke does an outstanding job of exemplifying much of what is wrong with organized religion, from a smug indifference to othose outside his clique to an emphasis of dogma over compassion.   This isn't 1800 and he can't hide behind the Vatican walls and his red dress.  Cardinal Burke and those of his ilk deserve some of the credit for the failings of modern religion because they exemplify the very contradiction that is modern religion:  Do as I say, not as I do...the rules are not meant for me, they are meant for you.  Yes, I am sure that Cardinal Burke follows Church rules to the hilt, but does it seem like he would be the kind of guy who would be helping the poor and destitute? It's those rules, the rules that many of us think that Jesus Christ exemplified...that the Cardinal Burke's of this world thumb their noses at, simply because their egos have inflated to the point of completely filling in their red robes.

(from THIS source)

Now it's not just Cardinal Burke, mind you; we also have those such as the Reverend Creflo Dollar, who (dressed in his own version of fancy vestments, namely very expensive suits) wants his followers to fund a Gulfstream jet for his "godly work" (read more HERE).

Are Raymond Leo Burke and Creflo Dollar exceptions or the rule?  Probably more the former than the latter, but yet they are both successful in their roles in exemplifying the worst that religion has to offer.  I'll also add that they are both actively engaged in their religious work.

* * * * * *

Post Script

Here's an odd ending to all of this:  I still go to church on occasion, and mostly I enjoy the experience.  I find a kind of comfort in the repetition of some prayers, even if some of those prayers are slightly different (re:  Episcopalian) versions of what I learned as a child.   I am also fond of quoting scripture in this blog from time to time; for that you can thank the perviously referenced good Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

I am far more interested in learning about religion today than I ever was as a child.  I have a nice collection of religious-related books in my home office.  I find the reading to be an interesting way to both better understand myself and understanding why we humans think and act they ways we do from time to time.

Mostly though, my real spiritual growth occurred in my mid-late 40's, up until now.  Maybe that's a function of the luxuries that time and maturity bring.  Maybe I was just wasn't ready earlier.  Regardless, I'm still learning.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Vote Tomorrow...and Two Wishes

I'll be voting tomorrow, although I'm not sure for who at the moment.  As I think about voting though, I do have two wishes for Pennsylvania:

1) Ending Party Line Voting.
No one should be able to pull a lever or fill in a circle in order to vote for a single party of candidates.  I'm sorry, but we vote for people in this country, not a political party.  Next to the abuse of alcohol, I think party-line voting is one of great scourges of NEPA, one that has contributed to a lazy electorate and enhanced corruption over the decades.

2) Ending Closed Primaries.
In Pennsylvania, you are effectively and officially disenfranchised during primary elections unless you are either a registered Democrat or a Republican.  This makes sense to no one, well except for the bosses in the two major political parties.  Another idea that has seen its time come to an end, mainly because it simply exists to help maintain the status quo.

Given that the two major political parties both benefit from the above electoral abominations, I'm not looking for anything to be changing.  Sadly, I will add.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What's Happening To Us?

I was reading the blog of a work colleague the other day (you can read that blog HERE), noticing that a theme of work stress kept creeping into her postings.  It made me wonder if work stress is reaching some kind of zombie apocalypse level these days.  There are days when I certainly feel it.

April was, truly, something of a living Hell for me.  May has been better, but that's only because, well, it's not April.  That's not actually fair, as some things came to a conclusion at the end of April that actually improved my lot.

What to do about all of this?  Well, I think I've already touched on that actually.  I am taking my April experiences as an opportunity to learn and grow my resiliency (I dislike the phrase "grow resiliency" by the way, as it sounds too much like "suck it up, buttercup") and I am actively learning to better focus on the here and the now.  More on that to come.  My eating habits still stink, but that's next in line.

More than anything else though, I genuinely do think that society today, particularly the part of American society engaged in the private sector for employment, is being pushed to the limit.  Efficiency isn't an unlimited curve.  When we grow tired we do make mistakes.  Not everything can be a top priority.  In short, some of us need to learn to say "no" a bit more.  We need to disengage from artificial competition with each other, we need to stop believing the mistaken notion that we are always in a state of debt to our employers, and we need to see that all of us...from mail room clerk to executive officer...are all human beings.  We are all equally dysfunctional.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Response to Tom Borthwick's posting, Bernie Sanders for President

In response to Tom Borthwick's latest blog posting, promoting the Presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  You can link to Tom's posting HERE.

* * * * * *

Hey Tom, glad to see you posting again.  I'd say "keep it up", but I don't want to jinx anything.

I view Bernie Sanders like many other politicians.  While Rafael Cruz panders to the far right, sometimes (well most of the time) Senator Sanders does the same to far left.  He's right about climate change, but  he's also guilty of sound-byte commentary on the equal pay issue, quoting an incorrect 78% statistics.   Here's a very good & quick read on the issue by the not-conservative Pew Research Center that proves my point -

In summary, he's simply wrong when citing a 78% wage gap.  Sloppy and pandering.

I'll also call him guilty of pandering on the promotion of trade unions as well; "card check", in place of secret ballots for union elections, is bad policy that opens the door for strong-arm tactics.  If a union is right for an organization, then what's to fear from a secret ballot election?  That employees will actually vote their conscience?

Lastly, as for "taking on Wall Street", well don't you see just a bit of irony in the U.S. federal government, the ultimate expression of "too big to fail" telling others that they are "too big to fail" and therefore should be broken up?  Now conceptually I actually agree that too much power is concentrated in too few financial institutions, but I simply don't trust the federal government enough to make those decisions.  Who gets broken up?  Who gets to own the pieces?  If anything, "too big to fail" targets are a smoke screen for the federal government's inability to actually prosecute the bad actors in the last financial crisis.  How many big CEOs went to jail after the 2008 collapse?  I know, that's a trick question, in part because greed isn't really a crime, but then again stupidity isn't either (and large financial institutions count on the financial illiteracy of Americans).

Anyway, welcome back Tom.  It's going to be an interesting summer.

- Steve

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Advertising (...don't blame me...)

I was reading some of the blogs linked to my page*, only to get annoyed at the pop-up and other advertisements that kept appearing on the (as in my) page.

Then I realized something:  I haven't monetized the blog.  That's blog lingo for the fact that I don't allow advertisements on .

Apparently my "most mal/ad-ware/virus free" Mac is about as susceptible to computer germs as a sailor on leave in Bangkok is to real germs.  Yet another reason why I'd never, ever buy another Apple computer again.  Alas, I've sunk enough money into this one that I have to keep it for a few years.  So I digress.

Speaking of "So", so if you are reading this and you see advertisements, well don't blame me.

Now never let it be said that I end blog postings on a low note, so here's a nice song for a Saturday morning.

(*) For the record, I have three different kinds of blogs I link to on this page:

1) Blogs I read every time they have new content.
2) Blogs that I read every once in a while.
3) Blogs that I really don't even want you to read...but I have them listed anyway (for various reasons).

I won't be providing examples.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

High Shutters & Eating the Rat

"You're not going back out on the roof after work today!"

The above was told to me by Ms Rivers as I walked into the house after work today.  An explanation is due in order to have that sentence make any sense.  But first, a few background points:

Vision - Because I don't have great depth perception, heights represent something of a challenge.  Heights, as in what would be experienced when climbing out on a roof.

Wasps - I love studying insects, and for the most part I'm fairly knowledgeable about a great number of them.  Want a brief dissertation on the Carpenter Bee?  I'm your man.

Stress - I tend to get what I would call "delayed reaction" to stress.  As in during the heat of the high stress moment I am fine, but afterwards, when all is said and done, it seem that entirely bodily systems collapse.

Shutters - We got new shutters for the house.

Okay, background briefing completed.  On to the story.

When we bought our house in December of 2013, we really didn't like the black, fake shutters that adorned the front windows.  Last year we had a few things going on (including having an entirely new bathroom built in the house), so shutter-pendctomy just wasn't in the mix.  This year?  Well we picked out a replacement shutter color we liked and ordered them from the local big-box homestore.  The shutters arrived, and last Sunday I replaced the first floor set.  They looked good.  So it's on to the second floor set....three windows actually.

The second floor windows are, by the way, easily accessible via the front porch roof.  So, yesterday after work I decided that I would at least remove the old set and fill the holes left by the mounting screws.  Being something of an insect dork, I also knew that the shutters...or more appropriately behind the shutters...would be the perfect location for a wasp/hornet nest or six.  In actuality there were something like 12+ of them, all thankfully unoccupied.

The actual shutter removal and hole filling wasn't technically very difficult.  The porch roof is very sturdy, the surface is not slippery, the pitch is slight and it's really not that high off the ground.  Seems easy right?

Well, it was terrifying.  I just get very uneasy about heights.  I can't judge distances very well...I never have been able to, truth be I tend to be very careful.  Have I mentioned that just being up on the roof was terrifying?

It took about 30 minutes to remove the old shutters and fill in the mounting holes.  As noted above, lots of abandoned wasp/hornet nests, but outside of an annoying flying bug or two, nothing in the air to worry about.  The old shutters are now back behind our house, waiting for a trip on Saturday morning to the recycling center after which I am sure that Chinese prison laborers will eventually turn them into iPhone cases.

Then there was the delayed reaction.  Sweating.  Stomach cramps.  The rapid heart beat.  A poor night's sleep.

By the way, now that the old shutters are down and the mounting holes are filled, I have to put up the new shutters.  I'm going to wait a little bit before I take that task on, you know, to give my innards time to adjust.

Now why would I go through all of this if it's some bothersome?  Therein lies the "eating the rat" part.  The story has been told by Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy that, after having been bitten by a rat as a child, he hunted down the offending critter, killed it, and ate it.  Yes, that's pretty violent and disgusting at the same time, but I consider the story to be something of a metaphor for the desire to attack that which I fear.  I won't cop to being afraid of heights, but I will confess that they make me very uneasy.  All the more reason to take down the shutters.  And put up the new ones.

I can think of no better way to end this posting than with a song that references a roof and a rat (as in "rat race").  Gentle readers, I give you Mr James Taylor.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Executive Compensation

I just completed my graduate Compensation class this past weekend, and I am, quite literally relieved.  It was a lot of work, and coupled with my actual day job (and a few other things running in the background), it was almost too much.  It's amazing really, looking back at older postings, as I can literally see the conflict in the words I used and the way I constructed postings.  Anyway, that's not what I was going to write about in this posting.  On to that...

About a quarter of the class was centered on executive compensation strategies.

On one hand, wearing my official HR hat, I intellectually grasp the "why's" and "how's" of executive compensation.  I really do.  The class instructor, by the way, is in charge of compensation for a large, multi-national corporation.  Like all of the Villanova faculty I've had so far, she is top-notch, so I have no complaints.  Especially since I did comparatively well in the class.

On the other hand, I have a moral problem with executive compensation.  Grasp this for a moment:  One of the chief methods by which executive compensation is determined is by gathering market data on what other executives are paid.  Let that sink in now, as it automatically creates a system that guarantees a perpetual set of increases over time (every time an executive gets a raise, that bumps up the median pay, which then can bump up pay for others).  What pays absolutely zero factor in executive compensation?  That would be how much non-executives are paid.

Now before I seem to go off the deep end, it's important to state that a typical American business executive (especially those I've met) by and large work really darn hard.  They are often working far longer than the average worker, and at times they never really leave work.  They also manage big chunks of risk that average workers don't need to assume.  I appreciate and acknowledge that executives need to be paid well, and they should have a long-term ownership interest in the company they work for, if that company is publicly traded.  The question though is what constitutes "excessive"?   Now you could answer that question by quoting some factoring of non-executive pay, but the problem with that comparison is that there really isn't an "average" worker pay in most organizations.  The math is difficult, but do-able; the logic though is a bit tougher (Weighted average?  Overtime?  Add in or subtract union dues?  How do you count part-time workers?).

I'll also note that "Blue Collar Joe Six Pack" had better be careful about criticizing excessive executive pay while simultaneously rooting for his favorite football or baseball team, as that's a heaping bit of contradiction.  By my estimation, most executives aren't paid nearly as excessively as the average professional athlete, namely someone who is paid a lot to basically play a child's game.  That executive at GSK may oversee the development of a new cancer drug; what does the average NFL quarterback do of comparable benefit to society?

Like most things I write about here, there is no easy set of answers, but that's okay.  This is more about asking questions than answering them anyway.  I'd also be remiss if I didn't point out the fact that at least some of the distress over executive pay is misplaced in the sense that it is used to stoke other, unrelated agendas (such as encouraging labor union participation).  Finally, there is also the very notion that what happens to someone else, as in what someone else is paid, really and truly doesn't concern me.  I am only in charge of me, just me, and by and large I am paid fairly.  I am not an executive, but that said I am doing fine for a kid that came out of a housing project.

This a conversation that needs to continue to be held in the United States though.  It's important to continue to question the status quo, whatever status quo that might be, as that's how true progress is ultimately made in our society.  

Saturday, May 2, 2015

On (other's) Blogs

For the record, I am not in a bad mood.  On the contrary, I'm actually feeling pretty good, all be it darn tired.  I was traveling on business this past week, and the days were, shall we say, long.  They also involved a lot of people contact, which I find personally very tiring (I know, an odd comment for someone who works in HR to make, but so be it...).

Anyway, I love reading other blogs.  In fact, if advanced degrees were offered in blog review, I would already have one.  I also (obviously) enjoy writing on this blog as well.  These two points give me the privilege of being able to comment on blogs and blogging.  So here goes.

Blog Things I Like
I like blogs that are written in actual, real English, complete with reasonable punctuation and grammar.  I don't think its a big deal for there to be a typo or four; we are talking about blogs here for Pete's sake, not Master's degree term papers written in APA format.  I screw stuff up all the time, but at least I make the effort, but that's the point:  At least make the effort.

Frequent updates.  By my vantage point, if you're not going to update your blog at least monthly, then why have it?

Honest expression.  Some of the most engaging blogs I have ever read were expressions of opinion, hope, fear, loss, yearning, disgust, etc.

Clean page layouts.

Blog Things That Loathe
Stealing content from others without attribution.  It's happened to me, and quite frankly, it stinks.

Cluttered pages (where you have a tough time finding the actual content).  This drives me nuts!  I've gone to blogs (some linked on this blog) because I see a headline that looks interesting, only to discover that the actual content is buried somewhere on the page or is undifferentiated from the rest of the page content.  Sorry, but from my vantage point, there is about 8 seconds allowed from page landing to the beginning of reading; if I can't find your content within those 8 seconds, well then it's bye-bye.

Blogs that are not optimized for mobile.

Pop-ups and other assorted annoyances.

"Please visit my advertisers" references.  Look, I have no problem with someone trying to make a buck off of a blog, but we get it...if you have advertising you actually want people to visit those advertisers.  You don't need to telegraph it.

Blog experts.  For the record this is about as close as I will ever come to providing "blog expertise", and even then I highly recommend you take whatever the heck I say with about a 10 pound grain of salt.  Nothing is more annoying than doing something for the pure enjoyment of it, only to be told by some 28 year old "expert" that somehow you are doing it wrong.  Hello!  This is the Internet, a magical land were cat videos get a million plus visits; there are no freak'n rules here.

Nickelback (they have nothing to do with blogs and blogging, but I just wanted to mention that I loathe them anyway).