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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Francis of Buenos Aires

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

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

(from THIS site)

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

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

(from THIS site)

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

Text of Remarks, Pope Francis Speaks to the United States Congress

Source HERE.

* * * * * *

Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members of Congress, Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in "the land of the free and the home of the brave". I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self- sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that "this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom". Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his "dream" of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of "dreams". Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our "neighbors" and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. "Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good" (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to "enter into dialogue with all people about our common home" (ibid., 3). "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all" (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to "redirect our steps" (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a "culture of care" (ibid., 231) and "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature" (ibid., 139). "We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology" (ibid., 112); "to devise intelligent ways of... developing and limiting our power" (ibid., 78); and to put technology "at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral" (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a "pointless slaughter", another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: "I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers". Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.
From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.
Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to "dream" of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Posting #1701

This really is posting #1701.  Seriously, it has been that many postings.  I hadn't been thinking about milestones, and quite frankly "1700" is not a number that is typically recognized as such, but what the heck...I need a topic.

The mock milestone did give me pause to think about how much I enjoy writing this "stuff".  Like most things that wax and wane in life I do go through phases where it's harder to think of something to write, but the one constant is that I really do enjoy writing.

Speaking of writing, when I started writing this blog I set some rules up for myself.  Andy Palumbo's posting the other day (link HERE) made me think of this as well.  Now my rules are not all that formal, instead they are more like things that are tucked inside my head that I test my content against whenever I write.  Because these rules are as much oral history as anything else, I don't actually have them formally written down.  This is quite odd for me, as I normally write everything down, but so be it.  I do know that I've referred to my rules in a posting or two before, but given that there are 1700 postings to contend with, even I probably couldn't find that content.

Anyway, in celebration of 1700 postings, here are a few of my blog rules.

People - I try to only say nice things about non-public figures.  Or I don't say anything at all about them.  I decided a long time ago that blasting nasty things over the Internet about a person (or persons) that I somehow think did me wrong was nothing short of crude and vulgar.  Public figures?  Well that's a different story.  Even then though, I will offer a critical opinion about a public person's ideas and actions, but not about who they are as human beings.

Honesty, Part I - I try to say what I think.  Now there are some postings that I know generate more controversy (in fact I know of several magic words that I can use in posting titles that will almost guarantee page visits) than others, but that's okay as long as I am being honest with myself.  In the end, I think this is something I owe myself and anyone else who reads this stuff.

Honest, Part II - It's not just being honest in my writing that matters, it's also about being honest about how I feel.  I have written things in the blog that, upon a later re-read, I had a strong desire to remove because they were too descriptive about how I felt at a particular moment.  By and large though, I don't remove postings.  Even thinking about some older postings makes me cringe.  But I'm still not going to remove postings.

Original Thought - I always try to provide my original thoughts on a topic, bolstered by supporting and cited sources.  Now once in a blue moon I've passed along some information that didn't come from me, but I try to be very diligent about disclosing information sources.  Hyperlinks are wonderful.

Conflicts of Interest - Andy Palumbo referenced this in his terrific blog posting the other day.  I always try to note where I may have some personal involvement in an issue, to the point of mindless repetition.  Virtually anything I write about Penn State, for example, is qualified with a notation that I am a graduate and a life member of the Alumni Association.

My Employer - In 1701 postings, you will not find a single reference by name to my employer.  Now in fairness, I think I once referred to the company, but not as my employer.  This somewhat bends the "Conflict of Interest" rule, but so be it:  sometimes rules have to be malleable for the right cause.  Anyway, I don't write about my employer because I'm not authorized to do so; I'm not an employer spokesperson, and besides, I never want anyone other than me to have control over this content.

Blog Promotion - I mostly don't.  Granted I did get a listing in NEPA Blogs early on, and recently I've started to publish my postings via Twitter, but by and large I don't go out of my way to promote this space.  The phrase I've heard others use when this kind of promotion is over done "blog whoring", which is a apt description of how I feel about this kind of thing.  Why?  Well I didn't start this as an exercise in "look at me"; it was simply more about having a creative outlet for someone (me) who lacks other creative talents.

Identity - I always post under my own name and I always comment on other blogs using my own name.  I am a firm believer in having the courage of your own convictions, and few things impress me less than folks who comment on blogs anonymously.

There are probably more, but I think the listing above is good enough.

Here's to 1700 more.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Dear Congress,

The following are two things that the United Stated federal government does that deeply offend me:

1) Spying on U.S. citizens
I find it inexcusable that innocent individuals, right now, are having their private communications intercepted by government employees.

2) Spend money in support of the two major political parties
See THIS and many other examples of tax dollars being used to subsidize two political parties.

I pay federal income tax.  In fact, I pay more than my share of federal income tax.  While I know that my individual federal tax dollars don't directly go towards spying and political party support, I do know that they go towards other things that then allow other dollars to go towards spying and political party support.

I therefore respectfully request that I no longer be required to pay federal income tax, at least for the next year.

Kindly get back to me.

- Steve

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pope Francis Speaks about Religious Fundamenalists

This is worth your time to read if you even have a passing interest in organized religion.

Reference HERE and HERE.  A few choice quotes:

“Our God is a God who is close, who accompanies. Fundamentalists keep God away from accompanying his people, they divert their minds from him and transform him into an ideology. So in the name of this ideological god, they kill, they attack, destroy, slander. Practically speaking, they transform that God into a Baal, an idol,”

“No religion is immune from its own fundamentalisms,” 

“In every religion there will be a small group of fundamentalists whose work is to destroy for the sake of an idea, and not reality. And reality is superior to ideas.”

He also made a comment about those religious fundamentalists who take a legalistic approach to their ministry:

“When a priest isolates himself, in his solemn or legalistic posture, or in the posture of a prince … when he distances himself, he embodies in a certain way those persons to whom Jesus dedicates the whole of chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew. … Those legalists, Pharisees, Sadducees, doctors of the law that feel themselves among the pure.”

One has to wonder if he was talking about, among others, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke.

(From a wonderful blog that all Roman Catholics should be reading.)

For the record, the gloves Cardinal Burke is wearing in the picture above cost more than what I spent of my first two cars...combined.  The hat?  That costs more than twice the value of the first car I ever financed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Comments Made in Response to Gort42's Posting, Donald Trump

You can read Gort's terrific posting on Donald Trump HERE.

Being someone to never miss an opportunity to re-purpose content, below you can find my reply to the posting.

Before that though, a two thoughts.

First, Donald Trump is a cartoon character; he might as well be one of the residents of South Park squawking about "There took our jobs".

Second, he appeals to the worst instincts and emotions in folks.  Compassion seems like an alien concept to Donald Trump.  He teaches that money equates to success.  He is arrogant and misogynistic.  He's the last thing the GOP needs running for President and would be a disaster if selected as the GOP nominee.

Anyway, here's my comment.

* * * * * *

Good post Gort.

As noted by a fellow GOP candidate back in 2013, the GOP needs to "...stop being the stupid party...". Trump's mission seems to be make sure "stupid" stays firmly entrenched in the GOP lexicon.

For example, do these folks who support Trump REALLY want to live in a country where you have federals hunting down 11 million illegals? Hell, in that scenario, how many times will Lou Barletta (and other sufficiently ethnic looking folks) be asked to produce "papers"? It's yet another example of a 1000% angry emotional appeal, common sense be damned, from a man who probably only laughs when he makes fun of older women. I don't even like Carly Fiorina and I was repulsed when I heard Trump mocking how she looks. 

My guess is that at some point these same angry supporters will be done with Trump. Anger seldom has a long shelf life. Like kids on Christmas morning, they will eventually tire of playing with the same Trump toy, and they'll find another. By then though, the damage will be done. Trump is a walking misogyny machine...couple that with his cheesing off 98% of thinking Hispanics (the remaining 2% includes Rafael Cruz and Marco Rubio...and perhaps a few that work construction for Trump) and you have the makings of a GOP disaster. The "high information" GOP folks (i.e. George Will, Charles Krauthammer and others) have already figured that one out...hence the almost daily stream of Trump attacks.

The truly sad part? Hillary Clinton could very well be damaged goods in 2016 and Bernie Sanders is simply too far left to win a general election. The GOP should have a decent shot at this election, but Trump seems to be doing his best to make sure that never happens.

Maybe this is an example of Big Dan's infamous "false flag" operations, political style.

Anyway, rant concluded. 

- Steve

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Road Apples, #164

Comcast...File this under "giving credit where credit is due".  The local Comcast supervisor, a Mr Donald Kondraski, really came through for us.  It was his intercession that got the local pole wiring replaced, and since then our Internet service has been flawlessly working, and actually faster than before.  While I said some unkind things about Comcast (all true), in the end this gentleman pulled it out.  Give that man a raise Comcast!

The End of the Mac Experiment...Yes, my Mac is being donated to my youngest daughter.  This posting, as a matter of fact, is being typed on my new set-up, an HP desktop running Windows 10 on an Intel i3 processor.  It's fast enough, and I can further juice up the RAM.  The hard drive is 1TB, which is plenty of storage.  So far, so good.  It's nice to have a familiar set of tools in front of me, and I can safely say that I've been cured of the Apple bug.  The transition wasn't without some extra work, as getting my display to work with the new PC via an HDMI connection required some finessing, but all's well that ends well.  All that's left is to finish installing some software.

By the way, Windows 10 is great, particularly when compared to that unmitigated disaster, Windows 8.  There is a part of Windows 8 that remains on the machine, but thankfully the basic interface is classic windows stuff, complete with that I missed the most, namely painfully easy file management.

Radio Face...While working on a group presentation for my current graduate school class, I was paid a nice compliment about the quality of my speaking voice.  I've gotten the "you have a radio voice" compliment before, and it's nice to hear.  It does make me think though that I also happen to have something of a radio face to boot.  Now in truth, I know that's not completely true.  At my best I clean up rather well. getting ready to ruin Top Gear.  It will just never be the same without Jeremy, James and "the Hamster".  I don't know who the new host is, and quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to find out.  I mean how could you possibly top the old guys?  The played soccer with cars once and had a lit gas grill going in the back of a truck.

Uma Thurman...I confess, I really like the Fall Out Boy song "Uma Thurman", in spite of the fact that Fall Out Boy seems a bit Emo to me & that the song uses a sample, which I find a horrid, unoriginal practice.  It all works though in this song.  See for yourself.

It's catchy & clever (kind of like Blurred Lines, but without all the perv-y elements).  The video is fun to watch as well.

The Turn...I can feel "the turn" happening.  This is when the seasons really begin to change, and despite the heat wave we had in these parts through part of last week, I'm thinking that things are changing.  In as much as I really don't like Winter all that much, I have to confess that I enjoy there being an end to endlessly hot days.  This is why there won't be any retirement for me in the deep south or southwest; nice places, but just not for me.  Now to begin my favorite season, Fall.

Presidential Race...It looks like the smart-person glasses haven't been enough to keep Rick Perry in the Presidential race.  In terms relative to the current GOP field (compare him to Trump & Huckabee) Perry was one of the more moderate candidates, which in and of itself is a shocking statement.  I suspect that his 0-1% support might end up going to Rafael Cruz, which will make exactly no difference.  This will be the first of many, although I've always suspected that some are in this race simply because:

1) It's a kind of job.
2) They can use the exposure to sell books and stuff.

See Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.

On the plus side, Dr Ben Carson is doing well.  While I don't think I'd vote for him (one never knows though...), he's the kind of outsider that I think most GOP voters want, without the monstrous ego and woman-hating of Donald Trump.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

2016 Presidential Candidates - Two Words

Hillary Clinton - Entitled Ego
Bernie Sanders - Leftwing Dilema
Martin O'Malley - Who's That?
Jim Web - Notta Chance
Lincoln Chafee - He's Running?

Special Bonus...
Joe Biden - Fun Uncle

Donald Trump - Misogynistic Megalomaniac
Scott Walker - Hates Unions
Jeb Bush - Neil's Brother
Ted Cruz - Frighteningly Weird
Mike Huckabee - American Theocracy
Chris Christie - Jersey Mafia
Ben Carson - Low Key
Carly Fiorina - HP Disaster
Jim Gilmore - Happy's Brother?
Lindsey Graham - Neat Video
Bobby Jindal - Kenneth (the) Candidate
John Kaisch - He's Republican?
George Pataki - Simply Lost
Rand Paul - Odd Duck
Rick Perry - Smartperson Glasses
Marco Rubio - Bland Salsa
Rick Santorum - Right (of) Mussolini

Special Bonus...
Sarah Palin - Box (of) Cats

* * * * * *

Okay, so I took a few liberties.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Comcast Follies

Well it was two wasted afternoons for me where I could have been working on school or work "stuff".  Yes, my Internet service is still about as reliable as the Philadelphia Phillies' pitching staff (proof HERE...and I don't even like baseball smilies).

I don't want to discredit the work of the in-person technicians who have been to my home, a total of FOUR times already.  In fact, the last gentleman brought his supervisor along for the ride.  This was yesterday afternoon.  They made with laptops, pole climbing and gadgetry that would make the Ghostbusters look underprepared.  The supervisor also provided an explanation of sorts:
  • I am not crazy.
  • It's not my router (which as been now been replaced a total three times).
  • It's not my wiring, all of which has been replaced.
  • There is no noted squirrel damage, which apparently is a big issue in West Pittston.
  • It does have something to do with the heat.
  • It also has something possibly to do with someone in the area who may be doing a little internal signal boosting, causing some kind of feedback into the system.  Thanks neighbor!
Explanation in hand, my two visitors yesterday still did not fix my problem.  That, it appears, will have to come with the pole wiring being replaced in this general vicinity.  I was told that would be happening today, starting around 3am.  For the record, I see no evidence of Comcast trucks (or their workers) stringing wires.

Did I mention that the Internet service died about 10 minutes before my graduate class yesterday evening?  Yes, while I was trying to focus on the finer points about whether or not Emotional Intelligence can be taught, I was instead worried that I'd be booted from the virtual classroom, courtesy of Comcast.  Not a good experience.

The Internet was not working the this morning, for the record.

A small glimmer of hope has emerged from this all though, in that while on the Comcast International Roulette Wheel of customer service, a representative (named "Nina"...I think...) suggested that I disconnect the coaxial cable from the back of the router and then reconnect it.  That operation seems to restore the service...until it goes down again.

Somehow I'm thinking that if my payments were about as reliable as Comcast's Internet service I would have already gotten the boot.  Credit to me for being more patient than Comcast, which provides absolutely zero benefit for anything as far as I can tell.

Anyway, I just want what I pay...a lot...for, namely Internet service that works all the freak'n time.

Rant concluded.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day 2015

Few things get folks more riled up than the subject of labor unions, and many take Labor Day as an opportunity to tout their value.  I'm not going there today.  Well maybe I am.  I have issues with labor unions, but I also recognize that sometimes they are essential.  Case in point:  Public school teachers.

There was a time when I thought that public school teachers should not be unionized.  How many other professionals (doctors and lawyers) have you known to go out on strike?  Then I had something of an epiphany:  Given how corrupt local school boards are, can you imagine just what kind of shenanigans would be happening if good teachers didn't have the protection of a labor union?

"Teacher Fran Jones fired for poor performance." 

Could very well actually mean...

"Teacher Fran Jones fired for not contributing to school board director Ty Goodwaddy's re-election campaign.".

Granted that teacher's unions are far from perfect.  For example, it's too hard to fire ineffective teachers.  In fact, given the debate centering on teacher evaluations, unions are making it difficult just to figure out who the ineffective teachers are (although if you get a good teacher aside and ask, they all can point out the rotten eggs), let alone performance manage them out of a district.  There are other issues as well (innovation, as in changing the construct of a school year, is another), but I don't want to pile on because in the arena of public education there are no clean hands.

In the end, I do think that labor, as a general concept, is under-valued in this country.  In many corners of the country working is not valued at all.  Perhaps in our desire to make the lives of our children better, we've gone too far, failing to teach the nobility that comes from working hard at any endeavor.  That needs to change.

I'll end this with a nice prayer from the Facebook page of The Episcopal Church.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Not Ceasing to Explore (Marigolds and such)

It occurred to me that, when I named the blog (back in 2008), the title might imply a desire to explore the world around me.  That may, in fact, be the intent of the quote by T.S. Eliot.  As for me though, I've never really thought about "exploration" in the context of travel.

Growing up we didn't really travel.  In fact, I can only remember traveling to two places:  South Central Pennsylvania to visit with relatives of my mother and to Atlantic City (twice, maybe...pre-gambling days) on vacation.  Not exactly globe-trotting.

Those family visits seem, to this very day, surreal.  I don't think my mother actually got along all that well with the rest of her family, a point which she later made quite directly on numerous occasions.  I've since learned life lessons around the value that family brings from a support system perspective, but that simply wasn't part of the experience I had growing up.  We were, that is my immediate family unit, pretty much an island among ourselves.

My Mom's family were different people.  They spoke differently ("Couke" for "Coke" in the carbonated soft drink), went to a different kind of church and had nice houses.  I don't know if they all actually had nice houses, but those that I remember were nice.  It's important to remember that the idea of "nice" is relative though; they seemed like palaces by my perspective then, but now they were simply well kept ranch homes (again, those that I actually recall).  One thing that has remained with me though are Marigolds.

Ah, Marigolds.  My favorite flower.  Rumored to repel Japanese Beetles.  Claimed by some to smell like urine, but I do so love them.  That love goes back to when I was a kid and we would visit my Mom's relatives.  As noted above, they all lived in nice houses and they all had Marigolds planted in front of their homes.  To this very day I associate Marigolds with nice homes, and ever since I've owned a home I've always planted Marigolds.  It's my way, I suspect, of saying that I have a nice home too.  A kind of bizarre status symbol of sorts.

The Marigolds in front of my house are now reaching that ratty phase, where they very well may need to be pulled out and perhaps replaced by some Mums for the balance of the pre-freezing weather.  It will only be temporary though, as next Spring will come, and along with it more Marigolds.