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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More Senseless Violence

The video I watched on the news today...where the "news" was actually the news...was shocking and disheartening.

More violence.

More death.

More proclamations.

More searching for answers in the wrong places.

I do not believe that there are easy answers to this kind of violence.  Why?  Well to solve a problem, you first have to understand what the problem is, and quite frankly, we just haven't managed to tackle that yet in this country.

Ideologues on the political Left will tell you that this is another outcome of our failing to address the easy access to handguns.  Maybe there should be more restriction of handgun availability, but in the end just focusing on this is a bit like blaming the car when a drunk driver kills someone.

Ideologues on the political Right will use this to stoke fears of "now they will take away your guns", solely, pretty much, for purposes of raising money.  While part of American weeps, the NRA's money machine will be getting all greased up for another round of pandering.

Those of us in the Center will be left just shaking our heads in a mixture of confusion and disgust.

We, as a society, to look into why mental health issues are so rampant.  What drives people to such depths of despair and anger that they act on the worst of impulses? Maybe it's that we've managed to define things like "happiness" and "success" in terms such that they can never be achieved.  That's truly a recipe for disaster.  When Donald Trump's narcissism screams to the world that happiness and success means being a billionaire, despite the fact that Donal Trump seems like one of the most miserable men* on the planet, well then you've got a totem for modern United States that breeds this kind of thing.

The bottom line?  The real solution to rampant violence isn't going to come any time soon, pretty much because most of the country simply doesn't want to look for it.  Maybe we are too afraid of what we will find.

(*) While I am not a fan of the late President Reagan, I do miss his iconic "happy conservative warrior" attitude.  Happiness seems like one of the many things that Donald Trump can't buy.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

All Negatived Out

I confess:  I write a lot of material.  The result is that most of the time I post about once every two to three days.  It's also common for me to have something like 15-20 postings in various stages of draft.  The draft postings come in handy when I feel like I want to post something, but for whatever reason I have trouble actually coming up with a coherent topic and set of thoughts.  Key word in that last sentence is "coherent"; my mind is a scary place, filled with all manner of continuous thoughts about lots of different things.  It's no wonder I don't sleep well and get up at the crack of dawn each day.  Anyway, I have a ton of stuff.

This past week was interesting though in that I had some time to write, but it was just impossible to take the time to start typing something out.  Calling that "writer's block" is far too kind, as it implies that I'm a "writer".  As I've previously noted, I am not a "writer"...I am a person who writes.  Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot and Hunter S. Thompson were writers.  I, on the other hand, joyously accept my hack-ish, amateur status with aplomb.

Getting back to this past week, thinking about why it was so hard to start a posting, or even complete one of my 20 draft postings, I'm left with one conclusion that makes sense:  There was just so much negativity that it was stifling.  No, the negativity was not at home; Heck, we just had a new deck installed, which is a really positive thing.



But the world around us?  So very negative.  ISIS killing archeologists, Ted Cruz acting like an inhuman dolt when asked about Jimmy Carter's cancer diagnosis, Bernie Sanders complaining about absolutely everything, someone trying to steal my car stereo, Hillary Clinton's current (email) scandal, everything coming out of Donald Trump's mouth...and the list goes on.  It's stifling.  It's as if the air were full of a dark emotional smog.

I'm not sure what to do about it.  I do have my next graduate school class starting on Monday, so maybe having more important things to ponder will help white noise out the gloomy din that seems to surround me.  Then there is also the tried and true tactic of ignoring the feeling in the hope that it will simply go away.

In any event, here's to brighter days and happier news.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Road Apples, #163

First World Problems...I've been having Internet issues, on and off (literally, the Internet would come on and then off) over the past two weeks.  Sadly, it's getting worse.  I know, "#firstworldproblems", but it is a major P.I.T.A. for a few reasons, including the fact that it makes working from home more difficult and I have my next graduate class starting on the 24th.  Fortunately it's working now, so maybe I'll have just enough time to complain about it not working.

For the record:

  • Yes, I did call Comcast.
  • Yes, the technical support person I spoke to was not a native English speaker.  I asked her to repeat her name, as I like to note such things, but she only said it unintelligibly a second time.  So I gave up on that front.
  • No, she actually tried to help me.
  • No, she didn't try to sell me on some kind of upgrade, which apparently Comcast is (in)famous for whenever you call them.

In the end, about an hours worth of work yielded an appointment with a service technician for next week.  In fairness, most of the Comcast service technicians I've met have been pretty good.  Here's to hoping the streak continues.

The American Way...Okay, I realize that complaining isn't going to solve any problems.  Heck, it doesn't even make me feel better, truth be told.  Being an American though, I feel compelled to at least try to complain.  It's kind of what we do.  See Donald Trump.

Off the Grid...All of the above does make me wonder if, one day, I'd consider ditching some of this modern technology I've become so reliant upon.  I'm not talking going full-throttle Thoreau, but still, a simpler lifestyle is pretty appealing at times.  Maybe, one day.

Car Shopping...For a variety of reasons, Ms Rivers had been thinking about getting a new (well new for her) car.  Neither one of us are fans of actual "new" cars; the economics don't work out really well for a truly new vehicle, and in fact I think buying a new vehicle is more of an emotional than a practical solution.  New cars depreciate tremendously once they leave the dealership.  The better solution, at least for me (& Ms Rivers) has been to buy a vehicle that is a year or so old with low milage.  In any event, after much researching, contemplation, window shopping and a test drive or two, she settled on a 2014 Nissan Maxima.

We've had good luck with my Nissan Rogue and this is just an incredible comfortable, powerful and well handling vehicle.  A bit more car than Ms Rivers was looking for, but I assured her that she works hard enough as to deserve a bit of a vehicular pampering.

Marital Philosophy...It's interesting when two older folks get married and decisions have to be made about assets, insurance, etc.  When we were buying our house in 2013 we made the decision to jointly own all of our financial assets.  It made sense in that if something terrible should happen, in the absence of actually being married, the other would have the financial means to carry on.  We haven't though decided to have a joint car insurance policy.  Part of this is practical in the sense that I cover the car insurance for one of my daughters and she has a son that she does as well.  Maybe one day, when all of the kids are older we'll combine things.  It would be interesting to learn what folks in similar situations do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Eye of a Hurricane

"Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn"
 - REM, It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)

One of the things I get accused of (Or is that applauded for?  I forget, as both have about the same impact, at least in my head...) is that I am remarkably and consistently calm in the face of adversity.  In fact, barring only two examples in my whole life that I can think of...examples so personal and they aren't getting space here,'s actually a fairly accurate sentiment.  And one for which I am reasonably proud, to boot. 

I'll also note that this is a trait I tend to share with my older brother.  I have a younger brother who is just the opposite, but that's a different blog posting for a different day.  Actually that's already made it to a blog posting, so scratch that thought.

So the question is this:  Where does it all come from?  How come when the Huns are literally charging at figurative gate I am calmly figuring out how to figuratively shore up the front line in the most organized fashion possible?

Upon not too much reflection*, the answer is pretty darn simple:  Growing up I had to be.  Far from this noble character trait, it was survival tactic.  It was how I was able to navigate a childhood where my only parent could, at pretty much no notice, explode into rage.  Now I do give credit to my mother for never striking her children and for dealing with circumstances that most people these days couldn't, namely raising four boys on her own.  As the urban types say, "respect".  It's no surprise then that there was something of a give-back in all of that though, namely her inability to express emotions beyond a spectrum of "mildly annoyed" to "yelling rage monster".  There wasn't much else on the other side of the spectrum.

What did I learn from all of this?  Well I'm pretty sure that I learned that anger isn't a great thing.  This, by the way, actually is a great thing; misplaced anger is a useless trait.  Just Google "Trump" for an example.  Again, growing up, there wasn't a ton of support for things over and above mere compliance, so expressing emotions was kinda-sorta frowned upon.  All told, this has served me well in life.  Oh, and I am capable of anger, but I note with some pride that I can count on one hand the number of times I have been so angry at someone as to "tell them off"...or whatever the heck the appropriate terminology would be.  I'll note that the pride part I referenced isn't "pride at telling people off"; rather, it's "pride at only having done it about twice".

Another trait I learned growing up is the art of problem solving.  The problems were simple growing up, but the tools and tactics never the less were universally applicable.  The key tool is persistency.

Ah, persistency, my good friend.  Persistency and anger don't go well together.  Anger is like the rapid acceleration of a rocket as it blasts off, going high and fast, but burning off a ton of fuel in the effort.  Most people simply can't maintain a high degree of anger for extended periods of time.  Me?  Hardly ever.  Anyone that can maintain sustained anger for weeks, months and years probably has bigger issues to deal with in their life.  That's not to say that I forget charged emotions, but rather over time I learn to go beyond there mere fact of being angry.  On the flip side, persistency requires a steady, measured burn of mental and emotional fuel.  It also requires thinking for the longer term, something that anger...with it's desire to blow up bridges right and left...isn't particularly good at.

There is nothing in the above that I would change, by the way.  Well I caveat that a bit in the sense that it would have been nice to have had a bit more joy growing up, but in the grand card game that is life, the cards I was dealt weren't all that bad.  

(*) I'll note that I've written about this before, or at least I think I have.  Once you get over 1,000 postings there is automatic forgiveness for duplicity.  Who says so?  I do.

Monday, August 10, 2015

New Hampshire

A few photos from a recent trip to New Hampshire.  See my posting about Lowell, MA for a few additional details.  The portrait photos were taken with an iPhone 6 Plus.

Thinking about New Hampshire, it's a bit ironic in that during the beginning of a presidential race, most people hear about the state as being a place where there is an early primary.  That's sad, in that this is about the least political place I could possibly imagine.  New Hampshire is the every essence of "live and let live".

New Hampshire, like Maine, is a place that really has to be explored on foot.  This is a good thing, as many of the places one can go can't be accessed any other way.

The view from the top of Pitcher Mountain, elevation of about 2160 feet.  It was about a 30 minute (or so) walk to the top of the mountain.

Ms Rivers, climbing up to the top of the Pitcher Mountain fire observation tower.  It's a wonderful view, but once you climb the tower steps it starts to get very windy.

One of the things I enjoyed most in New Hampshire was blueberry picking.  I'm not sure why; perhaps because it's a singular kind of task, of a kind that escapes me these days all too often.
Effort = Pick Blueberries; Reward = Eat Blueberries.
Wouldn't it be great if our professional lives could be so simple?

Places like New Hampshire and Maine remind me how important balance is in life.  The view is of Nubanusit Lake, where a day was spent on and around the water.  This is, without doubt, the cleanest lake I have ever seen.  Note that I was smart enough not to bring the camera out on the kayak this time.

The lake was a bit too cold for swimming (at least for me), but not so for canoeing and going out on the kayak.  The picture is of Ms Rivers and her 80+ year old aunt.  For the record, I want to be that active throughout my life as well.  The sailboat in the foreground is named the "Sheldon Clipper".

A special thanks to Ms Rivers' aunt and uncle for hosting us for a few days.  It was an enjoyable and relaxing time.  It was also a reminder to me that there is real value in simplicity, something that I think many of us forget as we go about increasingly complex lives.  Some of the easiest lessons in life are the hardest to learn, and one that really is continuously shouted over these days in our culture is the notion that "success" equates to consumption and having "stuff".  In reality, nothing further could be from the truth.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lowell, MA

A few photographs from a day trip to Lowell, Massachusetts.

Lowell is an interesting town.  You can read more about its history HERE.  Ms Rivers and I stopped in Lowell while in route home from a few days in New Hampshire to visit family.  Now prior to the trip I had known of Lowell (the town, as opposed to the singer), but that was mostly a view of the town as being an "old mill town".  While my general impression was correct, there's a lot to see in Lowell, and I do recommend a trip for those with any kind of interest in the history of business, the labor movement or New England in general.

Anyway, on to a few photos.  I'll note that the camera I usually take on trips is being repaired (status unknown at this time...thanks Geek Squad), so these were taken with my point and shoot Sony DSC H200.

Lowell is a city of canals...canals which provided water that powered the mills.

Water is diverted from the Merrimack River into the canals, with a total drop in elevation of something like 30 feet overall.

The canals can be navigated, using a series of locks.  The canals are actually relatively clean, and there is a robust fish population living in the waterways.

Only about 10% of the mills that once dominated Lowell are still in existence; some are kept merely as shells.

There are several mills though that have been restored and are part of the Lowell National Historical Park; the park offers both canal and trolly tours of the remaining mill sites.

The best part of the tour for me was the canal ride; I had never been on a boat that went through a lock before, and the lowering elevation was fascinating to watch.  The worst part?  That was in the Wannalancit Mill, which while I found it fascinating (the mill has a more or less operational water turbine, which is way cool), I also found it physically difficult to be in, as the air in the building was so thick with moisture that it made my breathing difficult.  All for a good cause though.

A great place to visit, just not for the younger folks.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Road Apples, #162 flying by.  Maybe that's because I've managed to do a lot.  Getting married.  Some significant house renovation work.  More house renovation work planned.  Oh, and graduate school starting again soon.  Plus my "day job".  I keep telling myself that "one of these summers I am going to take it easy"; yeah, maybe that will be next summer.

Speaking of home projects...we are having a 15.6x14 deck added to the back of our house; basically expanding a small covered porch that already exists.  Having learned my lesson from previous endeavors, this deck is using all composite decking and vinyl railings, which should make it last longer and cut down on maintenance.  We're also having overhead cabinets installed in one of our two full bathrooms and the half bathroom.  In buying the home, our plan from the beginning as been to make changes that would make it more livable for us plus adding to the resale value of the home, as this will not be our "forever" abode.  Come about age 65 for me (and slightly later for Ms Rivers) it will be time for retirement, and I'm working on convincing my wife that retirement somewhere that is about 5 degrees warmer in the winter would be a "good thing".

One other home project in the to have a more modern heating system installed.  Currently the house has electric heat plus a coal/wood stove.  The combination is fine heating wise, but the electric gets mighty pricey (with no sign that electricity rates are going down) and the coal stove...while both quaint and just a ton of work.  The working solution to actually have two separate heating/cooling units the for second floor (based in the attic) and one for the first floor (based in the basement).  We're still getting pricing on the work, but I'm thinking the estimate will come in somewhere between "My God" and "Damn, that equivalent to the GNP of Ghana".  On the plus side, I'd rather spend money now in one chunk than slowly get bled to death every month of the winter.  More to come.

Home & Life Philosophy...The above points to a certain philosophy that both Ms Rivers and I share about life (and home ownership), namely to...

...keep things simple
...don't over over-buy
...don't be afraid to make prudent investments
...always seek out professionals for help.

Peter Cetera...We attended the Peter Cetera concert at Bethel Woods, NY, on Sunday evening.  The venue itself is wonderful.  The staff is incredibly friendly, the grounds are impeccably clean (one of the cleanest men's rooms I've ever been in) and it's relatively easy to get to from Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Highly recommended.

As for the concert itself, well at about age 71 Peter Cetera has a great voice, and throughout a nearly two hour set (backed by a full orchestra) I knew all but about two songs, including a few from his Chicago days.  We should all age so gracefully.  

Other Trips (of the not so nice kind)...We recently visited Camelbeach on a Saturday and had what I'd describe as a horrible overall experience.  They overbook on the weekends, that's for sure.  Most of the attractions had 30+ minute waits, which means that for an average stay at the park you're spending something like 80% of your time standing around.  And this is on top of the crappy & dramatically over-priced food.  I can't see going there again on a Saturday.  Ever.

End (of an era)...Last week I did something for the last time, namely pay a college tuition bill for one of my daughters.  This last one was a whopper, but it's been worth it.  How long have I been up to this?  Well my oldest daughter started college in the Fall of 2006, so we're talking about 9 years of the annual ritual of coming up with thousands of dollars.  Again, it's been worth it, but I'm also glad that this era is coming to a close.  It's been a great investment:  One daughter is teaching at a prestigious NYC charter school, one is in a doctorate program at UMass, and the last is finishing her degree in social work.  Proud parent?  You bet!

Bloggery...I did one of my not-frequent-enough blogroll clean-up efforts last week.  It's both a happy and a sad exercise really.  Happy in the sense that I added a new blog (one written by my oldest daughter no less!) and that I noted Gort (the best local political blogger, bar none) is writing again.  Sad in the sense that I really wish some of the other local folks would write more frequently.  There is a ton of writing talent in this neck of the woods.  I did delete a few blogs too; mainly stuff that hadn't been updated in several eons and two blogs where the content was so hidden in advertisements & sloppy design that I just got tired of opening up pages and then having to hunt for the actual text.  Call me crazy, but if you write a blog and have an intriguing posting title, it's more than just a bit annoying when actually finding the content takes more than about 8 seconds.  Yes, that's how much time I devote to such stuff.  

"How's Married Life" a question I get from time to time at work.  The answer?  For the record:  Wonderful.  It just feels right.