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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Road Apples, #168

Led Zeppelin...It occurred to me that the band's movie, "The Song Remains the Same", is aptly titled, given their propensity for borrowing material from other artists.

The Donald...It's pretty clear that those who support "The Donald" for president are simply running on some kind of emotional autopilot.  Sadly though, being the leader of the free world probably isn't something that should be decided purely on the basis of emotion.  Saying that you're going to vote for "The Donald" because you're angry at Washington DC is a bit like saying you're going to stop eating entirely because McDonald's served you warm french fries.

The Real Pickle...It occurred to me that I'd have a heck of a tough time if the general election for President came down to Bernie Sanders and "The Donald".  That's a bit like having to decide between cancer or diabetes.  Not that Hillary Clinton is anywhere near a great choice either, but she does have the advantage of not making endless promises for everything and as well as simply not being an incompetent walking ego with hair.  Interestingly enough, I'll be in Florida on vacation when the election happens; we've already decided that we'll file a write-in ballot as every single vote will count in order to prevent the thrice married, four times bankruptcy declaring reality television star from becoming President.

Graduate Degree...I'm soon going to be 70% of the way done with my graduate degree.  I can't find the words to describe just how happy I will be when this is over.  It's tedious.  And time time-consuming.  At times frustrating.  In other words, it's probably worth it.

Speaking of Graduates...My youngest daughter "officially" graduated from Marywood University recently.  In addition to being, well, officially old, I am also extremely proud of her, as I am of all my children.  All will make the world a far better place.  Love You Stinky!

Back to Politics...Both parties are, to one degree or another, are built upon a fundamental lie.

Democrats - Want us to believe that government is the answer. To everything.  And that we should all be in labor unions, whether we want to or not (because big powerful institutions are always inherently good, right?).  Government is the answer when it comes to essential services and protecting us (from foreign powers and, sadly, from each other), and that's pretty much it.  Otherwise, it simply becomes this giant, impersonal, all-consuming thing that grows continuously larger without rhyme or reason.

Republicans - Want us to believe that somehow taking care of the wealthy and business interests will, almost by magic, make everything better for everyone else.  Sorry Cletus, but you and your relatives in rural Pennsyltucky have been sold a massive bill of goods.  We've had decades worth of practice when it comes to favoring the wealthy and business interests and nothing really to show for it, other than stagnant wages, spiraling executive pay and a tax code that favors those that make the most.

The real solution, in my estimations, is to scrap the two party system in this country.  We are, after all, one party away from a one party state.  Having multiple political parties will force greater compromise and alliances, something that's nearly impossible in the polarized region of the planet known as Washington DC.

Bathroom Bills...Speaking of ridiculous issues, there is far too much talk about manufactured bathroom issues.  For Pete's sake, if you look like a woman, than use the woman's rest room.  Ditto for males.  In fact, I'll take it one step further...

Enough...of the politics and other such stuff.  I started this posting on a musical note, so I'll end on one as well.  Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Vince Gill.

I love that song.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

What I wanted to be (when I grew up)

My earliest recollection was that I wanted to be an Aerospace Engineer when I grew up.  Now I did have some idea as to what that meant, although the enormity of the mathematics that would entail was, at the time, beyond me.  More on math in a second.

As I grew older, I thought I'd like to be an Architect.  In fact, I used to create my own floor plans for imaginary schools and similar buildings using big sheets of paper.  Some if it, I think, was probably quite good.  Then I started Algebra in high school, and early into the class the teacher asked each of us what we wanted to be "when we grew up".  I said "Architect".  She said, in front of the whole class, that I probably wasn't good enough in math to make that happen.  Before then my math grades weren't bad, but they weren't spectacular either.  Thereafter I got good in math.  Real good, in fact.

As I approached college, I still wanted to be an Architect, but the realities of college financing (we had no money), the competitiveness of Architectural school programs, and their relative scarcity made that not all too realistic.  I settled on an Associate's Degree in Architectural Engineering.  That lead to acceptance into a Bachelor's degree program in Civil Engineering.  Then I changed my major to business administration.

Why the change?  I just didn't want to be an Engineer.  I almost got into the Architecture program at the University of Cincinnati, but then those realities of finance reared their ugly head again.  That and a general lack of encouragement for that kind of change spelled doom for my Ohio dreams.  Anyway, a major in business administration seemed like a safe bet.  I ended up having some difficulty with study-based courses, as I had been pretty much wired for math during my first two years of college, but all told I made a good run of it, finishing my BBA degree within four years and having a boat-load of math credits to boot.  Then I got a job in retail, mainly because it was 1986, and jobs were somewhat hard to come by.  My starting salary was the princely sum of $13,500 per year.  Needless to say, I ate a lot of Corn King hot dogs.  And I still didn't know what I wanted to do "when I grew up".

My retail career lasted about three years, and along with a new family came a need to earn more money, so I ended up getting hired by a large insurance company (the one without the cartoon beagle).  It had nothing to do with anything I actually wanted to do, but it was challenging and it paid reasonably well, so I stayed.

Fast forward to now, and I've had a long and varied career to date.  These days I do "HR stuff", and it continues to be challenging.  Heck, I'm nearly 70% of the way towards a Master's degree in the field, so I must be at least competent.  But is it what I wanted to do when I "grow up"?

Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with the vice president I report to, and she asked a very reasonable two questions:  What do you want to do?  What are you interested in?  I actually couldn't answer either all that well, truth be told.  What did I end up saying?  Well, here you go:  "The things I'm interested in are well above what I do for a living."

I know, that last statement sounds cryptic or brilliant, but it has the benefit of being true.  After all these years, I really don't know what I want to do "when I grow up".  I have, however, learned that a few things about myself:

- I like learning, continuously
- Despite not really liking people, I actually do like to help them
- I enjoy a good challenge
- I (now) like math
- I enjoy writing

I may in fact never know what I want to do "when I grow up", mainly because, perhaps, I've never grown up.  And I think this is probably okay.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Internet Graphic of the Week - Shania Law

(from the Kissing Fish Facebook page)

Allow me to quote from Shania Law:
And the Lord spoketh and said "Thou best understandith that the best part about being a woman is the prerogative to have a little fun".

As is the case for many of these things, the comments are almost as entertaining as the posting itself.  My personal favorite?  That would be "Forgot to mention that Shania is a foreign country singer from Canuckistan".

On a more serious note, we have to stop treating plain old stupidity as somehow being cute and/or okay.  It's not, and it's that stupidity that I think is the root cause of many of the ills that plague modern American society.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

NEPA Groupthink

The more I see, read, hear and experience in NEPA the more I am absolutely convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that our single biggest problem is NOT:
  • Being in the technology dark ages (although we are...)
  • Poor primary and secondary educational systems (I think they are functionally okay...)
  • A lack of a safety net for the poorest (even though there are plenty of poor...)
...or even...
  • A lack of economic opportunities for young people (more on this in a second...)
It's not any of the above, and I'll debate this item with anyone, any time.

No, our single biggest problem lies in an inability to critically question authority in NEPA.  We basically exist in some kind of bizarre herd mentality in NEPA whereby many willingly follow anyone in "authority".  Now reading the anonymous comments to various newspaper articles may make you think differently, but it's very telling that, in order to be critical, many have to hide their identity.  Where is the revolt at the ballot box?  We elect and re-elect the same failed politicians in NEPA without so much as batting an eye.

Anyway, it's an inability to question authority...heck, there is a cottage industry in NEPA surrounding how some enable authority...that I think leads to many of the ills we face as an area.

Just what do we believe?

We BELIEVE that school boards exist not to oversee the education of children, but rather to hand out good jobs and business contract to deserving family members and political supporters.  
See the lack of real nepotism policies in Scranton, Wyoming Area, Wilkes-Barre, etc.  And let's not forget Scranton's no-bid, multi-million dollar bus contract.

We BELIEVE that political corruption is somehow bizarrely okay, as long as money is brought in to construct a building, add lights to a Little League field, renovate a theater, or any other kind of pork.  If it makes us feel good, it must be okay, right?
See Bob Mellow.  And Dan Flood.  And Joe McDade.  And Ray Musto.

We BELIEVE that big institutions are always right, no matter how often they prove it to the contrary.
See the Catholic Church*, public employee labor unions, utilities, Penn State and others.

We BELIEVE that athletes are heroes and are deserving of just about anything they want, no matter how incompetent they actually are off the playing field.
See "Skrep-Daddy".  And Joe Paterno.  And others.

We BELIEVE that local economic develop officials are doing a GREAT JOB, no matter how unsuccessful they are in getting the Scranton Wilkes-Barre MSA's unemployment rate out of last (or nearly last) place in Pennsylvania.  Note that I've been to most parts of Pennsylvania, and having the highest unemployment rate in a state that boasts such garden spots as Altoona, Easton and Erie is quite a trick.  The cynic in me thinks that some must actually work at keeping the area economically depressed.
See the local Chambers of Commerce, state economic development folks, county commissioners, etc.

We BELIEVE that entertainment is more important than attainment.  This is why local newspaper sports sections are multiple pages longer than the business section.  We wouldn't want people to be educated about our economy and how it actually works outside of the public sector.
See the Scranton Times, Citizen's Voice, the Times-Leader and others.

All isn't lost though, as the good work being done by Friends of Lackawanna is showing promise that perhaps some are willing to truly challenge the status quo.  This is a good thing.

(*) I am drawing a distinction here between what one may chose to believe about the Catholic Faith vs. human-run institution of the Catholic Church.  I admire the Faith, while I am dismayed at the institution.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My lessons in humility

I think about humility, probably more than most.  I'm not always sure that's healthy, by the way, in that it would be one thing if I were this raging ego monster that always needed to keep my head from blowing up into extra large proportions, but I don't think that's me.  At least I hope it's not me.  More on ego in a moment.

When I was a kid, I was in a perpetual state of humility.  Growing up in a fairly staunch Catholic family, I was raised to believe that I was in this constate state of sin, some of which (the "original" variety) wasn't even technically related to anything I've actually done myself.  No bother, as I was probably guilty of so many sins via thought that one more for the perpetual road wasn't going to make much difference.  This made, by the way, the confession of sins all the dicier;  I knew I was swimming in sin, so much so that I couldn't remember them all, let alone be able to actually act in accordance with a reasonable accounting of misdeeds (real or otherwise).

The above, by the way, contributed to my last formal religious confession of sins being in 1986.

It's not that I don't believe in the idea of confession; heck, it seems to be a good idea if you ponder it for a bit.  Who wouldn't want to express that which is gnawing at your conscience like a New York City pizza rat?  It seems both reasonable and logical.  So why did I stop and what does this have to do with humility anyway?

To answer that I think it's important to take a side trip down the road called "ego".  The president of my company has talked about his desire for an organization that is exemplified by " drama, low ego...", which I completely understand.  In fact, I remember the first time I heard that quote.  Quite frankly, I was thrilled.  I've always believed that I had a "low ego".  In fact, I can think of many times when my ego has been practically roto-stripped out of existence.  To be fair, I can also think of times, 98% of them being in my professional life when I wasn't acting in the best interests of "low ego".  I try in my life to not dwell on the past, but when I do and these thoughts come up, I am regretful.

Fast forward to now, and I've spent some time studying the works of Eckart Tolle, specifically his thoughts on the nature of ego.  Now I wouldn't consider myself to be a devotee of Herr Tolle, and I wouldn't recommend any of his videos right before bedtime (because you'll fall asleep well before any of them end), but I agree with his basic concept, namely that ego is a corrosive force in our lives and it really does lead to suffering. Mostly our own, but in some very grand ways the lives of others as well.  For me, this becomes a practical matter in that I've learned to detach the concepts of "ego" and "humility".  Humility isn't the absence of ego.  In fact, I can think of many people who are humble but yet likely have enormous egos.  It's not quite the contradiction that it would seem to be when you ponder it (and someone like, for example, U2's Bono) for a moment.

As a matter of personal practice, I don't try to remove ego from my life, mainly because that's almost an egotistical thing to think and do.  I simply recognize it for what it is and try to live accordingly.  This hasn't made me more humble; my humbleness quotient (if there was such a thing) is at about the same level it has always been.  The key difference, at least for me, is that it's become okay to aspire to humility, not because I'm down-trodden and unworthy of doing anything of importance, but because it's simply good for the soul.  The narrative for me now is one of conscience acceptance of who and what I am.  Note the word "conscious", mainly because I do have to work at it.

Another thing I have to work on?  Awareness and management of my feelings when I am around those who may prize their ego and for whom humility is something that is maybe equivalent to a personal weakness or even a show piece that is displayed mostly for effect.  I am admittedly unnerved by such folks.  However, I've learned that my reaction says more about me and my ego than it ever could about anyone else.  Ego isn't just a looking down kind of thing, as it works in the other direction equally well.  That's an easy lesson to understand for me, but far more difficult to apply.

So why haven't I been "back to confession" in 30 odd years?  I respect and admire the tradition of a religious confession of sins, but I've realized that I don't need to feel sorry for my misdeeds in retrospect, as I can (and should) fully do that in almost real time.  An act of religious confession for me only served to distort the real meaning and value of humility.  Being humble isn't something that I need to drag out for an event; rather, it's a conscious decision I need to make about how I live and view the world around me.  I'm not "so good" as to be above the act of confession, but nor am I "so bad" as to be beyond its hope.  Mostly I try to be a good human being; humility simply helps me approach that goal in an intellectually honest manner.        

* * * * * *

What I was listening to on the way back from the gym:

"By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There's a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, "I feel my life
Just like a river running through"
(Al Stewart, "Year of the Cat")

Unrelated to humility or ego, mainly just a great song.  And that's good enough.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Buying a Mother's Day card was always difficult...

(My mother, late 1960's, with some of her children; I think I'm the one on the far left)

When I was far younger, buying cards for holidays such as Mother's Day was a luxury, mainly because I had no money.  As I got older, got employed and got some money (even in small amounts) the economic challenge of buying a Mother's Day card was solved, but it left me with an even larger one:  What card to buy?

It all goes back to my mother.  Saying that my mother was a "tough lady" is like saying that there definitely is a chance of a Tuesday next week.  In point of fact she was one of the toughest human beings I have ever met.  Growing up she really didn't express all that much in the way of emotion, save for a round of "pissed off" when her sons would inevitably miss that large bathroom target known as a toilet bowl.  Love?  Hugs?  Not so much, although I know for a certain fact how much my mother loved all of her children.  She just wasn't able actually say it in words.  Luckily, at least for me, there were a few scattered times when she showed it, and for that I am grateful.  That toughness never left my mother by the way, up until her passing.  Speaking of tough, that was my final act as a son, namely to insist that my mother be allowed to pass away with the dignity that she would have demanded.  For that moment I was Doris Albert.    

Prior to her passing, but in later years, my mother did start to have interests in some things.  She liked being in the yard and she enjoyed flowers, so on Mother's Day I would usually get her something that could be planted.  That was easy.  The hard part?  Finding a card to go with the plant.  My mother simply wasn't that wonderful, loving person, in line with what's expressed in most greeting cards.  Oh, and my mother's demeanor wasn't limited to her children; if anything I think she was remarkably consistent in how she approached most thing in life.  Now I don't mean any of what I've written be demeaning in any way, shape or form, as my mother was a product of her own upbringing and circumstances.  I know, as I've grown older, that she did what she thought to be right, and, by the way, my mother always had strong feelings about what constituted "right".  Hindsight is always 20:20, and again as I've grown older I've become even more acutely aware of just how difficult it must have been for her as a single parent.  There was no manual and virtually nowhere she would have gone for help.  Yet here I am, typing this, so the end product couldn't have been all that bad.

I do think of my mother often, and in fact I've written more than a few things about her over the years.  Some of it is fairly direct, but maybe that's something I inherited from her.  That's another part of her her "living legacy", if you will.  So you'll forgive me if I don't write a glowing tribute to how wonderful a person my mother was, and how much I miss her on this day to appreciate mothers far and wide.  In fact I don't really "miss" my mother in the same way that other's certainly do, and that's okay.  If anything, I'd like to think that, years after her passing, my mother is now in a place where the anger has gone and it's been replaced by something I don't ever really remember her expressing in this life: Namely joy.

Another part of my job, also in the "living legacy" department, is to try and live a life filled with more joy than anger, more blue skies than pain*.  The irony is that my mother didn't teach me this, but I learned it from her never the less.  Some lessons need to be taught by example, even if it's not the example you think.

Happy Mother's Day in Heaven Mom.

(*) This thing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Welcome to Introvert Hell (population 1, thankfully)

(from THIS page)

We all, each and every one of us, have our "crosses to bear" (as was often said in my youth), and I readily accept that mine are far from that heavy.  That noted, there are times when I'm truly, utterly and completely mentally exhausted.  Mostly those are caused by self-inflicted wounds.

For example, why on Earth would I ever choose for a career a job that, given my desire to not call all that much attention to myself, regularly requires me to stand in front of large group of people and talk?  Heck, sometimes I do it even outside of my day job.  For example, during a recent company "town hall" meeting there was an audience question and answer period with our senior leaders.  It was clear that, outside of the lone question already asked, no one else was going to speak up.  What's my reaction?  Why to stand up and ask a question.  Bingo, a room full of people (plus hundreds more on video feed, mind you, and I'm not going even count the replays) are now looking at me.  Granted, I think it was a decent question, but just as I handed over the microphone and sat down, a quick check my heart rate yielded a reading of 110. If I were exercising that would be a good number.

Now part of my motivation in asking the above question was to avoid our senior leaders having to seemly beg for audience questions.  I don't like it when I am in that position and if I can help someone else who is, well I file that under the category of "professional courtesy".  The other part?  Well I was genuinely interested in the answer.

I don't get anywhere near a rush from standing up and being looked at by large group of folks, regardless of the setting or reason.  Town Halls or classes I teach or meetings I facilitate.  None of it.  In fact, if I were to actually ponder it all that much before standing up, I'd probably not actually do it in the first place.  Regardless of what "it" happens to be at any given moment.  However it's my's what I do.

People are sometimes surprised, at least when they see me work, that I am an introvert.  The situation reminds me of a scene from one of Star Trek movies...

Female Character to Captain Kirk:  You must be some kind of space man or something.
Captain Kirk:  No, I'm from Iowa; I only work in space.

I'm fine working in front of others, but as noted above it takes a toll in that I'm often exhausted after any kind of large engagement.  Years ago I actually had a truly introverted kind of job, working in accounting.  I really didn't like it.  I like numbers, but the job lacked any kind of edge for me.  Truth be told, I like being challenged, even when I find it terrifying and exhausting.

Oh, and what's worse than being looked at by large numbers of people?  That would be work-related social functions.  I accept these as important element of team cohesion, but they make me very uncomfortable.  It's easier for me to ask a question to a group of senior leaders than it is for me to engage in small talk with colleagues over dinner.  It also feels like far more pressure.  When I'm teaching or facilitating I have some measure of control; with small talk it's like the wild west of communication:  I don't know where things go and I'm unsure of my part.  It's all so random and unpredictable.  If such things were graded, I'd get a solid D- in the art of reading social clues, which is another reason why small talk is so vexing for me.

Welcome to my world.

I do have a strategy for dealing with work social functions though:  Find another introvert and then introvert together.