Not Cease from Exploration

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Doing the heart rate fandango

(Attempting to be metal...not a good move for an ABBA fan)

Yesterday was something of a culmination:  Nearly 60 days after it was determined that both my heart rhythm and rate were majorly screwed up, I was to have myself shocked back into some sense of normalcy.  Now just make things interesting, I started to come down with my "once every 18-24 months" cold on Tuesday.  Honestly, I just wanted to get this over with, so there I was on Wednesday morning, hoping that a sore throat wouldn't impede my cardiologists ability to zap me into normal.  As it turns out I likely didn't sound too sick (I was trying to not sound sick, for the record) or they didn't feel like rescheduling me either, so after a quick consult after arriving it was deemed that I was fit to be treated.

The worst part of the experience?  That was the waiting, which all told isn't the worst thing I ever had to endure.  Major kudos of the incredibly professional cardiology staff at Geisinger CMC, as they were nothing short of terrific.  I barely felt the IV going in.  "Ray", one of the procedure nurses, even got my 70's reference to holding a hotdog between my fingers as I was being zapped.

(200 joules and a Ballpark; from THIS page.)


The treatment was successful and now my heart seems to operate according to factory specs.  Granted I couldn't feel that I had a problem before anyway.  I will admit though that the inside of my chest does feel different since the procedure...if feels "lighter".  Then again maybe that's the cold.  Who knows?  Oh, and my chest itches something fierce where the paddles were applied.  

From here, well I have more appointments ahead and potentially a sleep study to try and figure out if poor sleep is contributing to all this madness.  I'm also going to be on a blood thinner for the long haul, which on one hand isn't all that bad...I don't randomly spurt blood at the slightest nick and/or cut...but on the other hand kind of stinks, as I'm limited to what cold medications I can take now (read:  Basically very few, as most has some impact on heart rate).  

There will be more weight loss (I'm at 20 & counting), far less caffeine and some consciously better work at stress reduction.  In the grand scheme of bad health news, I am getting off rather easy.



Monday, March 28, 2016

500,000 or so...

...page views since I started this in 2008.  Actually I probably crossed that line a while ago, as I didn't start the counter until well into 2009.

The number isn't all that important by the way, at least not as an absolute value.  There are pages that get that many hits in half a day after all.  What really matters, at least for me, is that I really and truly enjoy doing this writing gig.  In fact, I'd do it if no one was reading it.  Songwriter David Gates explained it well in "The Guitar Man":

"Then the lights begin to flicker and the sound is getting dim
The voice begins to falter and the crowds are getting thin
But he never seems to notice he's just got to find
Another place to play"


I'm not even in the same dimensional plane of reality talent-wise when compared to Mr Gates, but I understand his sentiment.

Art?  I don't think so.  The day that anything I do is considered art will be the day when it will start rain fire, with cats and dogs living together (thanks Dr Venkman).

Passion?  Maybe a little.

A voice?  Most definitely.

Ego?  Not really.  Quite frankly, must of what I've written over the years wouldn't pass muster in a junior high creative writing class.  At a crappy junior high no less.  That's okay by the way.

Regrets?  None.  I've mentioned before that I almost never read old postings.  Some are down-right cringe worthy from several different perspectives, but yet I still won't delete anything I've written.

Proud?  In some ways yes.  When I started writing this I set some ground-rules for myself, mostly unwritten, that I can rightfully say I've followed all these years.  That's good.  What's also good is the fact that I tangibly see how I've gotten better at expressing myself over the years as well.  That's the "almost" in "almost never read old postings" part, by the way.

Maybe, just maybe, it is all about expression.  I readily confess that I find more than a few elements of basic human interaction to be painfully difficult.  I am terrible striking up a conversation with someone.  I feel horribly awkward in many social interactions.  I'd much rather speak in front of 200 people than have to mingle at a party.  Yet I can do this in a reasonably okay manner.

Now I know I've said that I don't much care if anyone reads these postings, but yet how could I can be anything but thankful that many have over the years?  Another paradox of sorts in a life full of paradoxes.

So thank you, whomever and wherever you are, for reading this posting.   And thank you to all those who have read any of the 1,759 previously published postings.  It's been worth it for me...and...if I've entertained or stimulated or cheesed you off, well then maybe it's been worth it for you as well.  Honestly, I'll take any reaction.

See you at a million.

- Steve


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Re-post: At the Garden of Gethsemane

Note...I re-post this around Easter time most years, mostly because I have always found the underlying story of faith to be very insightful and inspiring, even as my own faith waxes and wanes.


The original posting was from 2009, or so I think.

*******************


One of the most insightful (at least for me) biblical stories is found in the Gospel of Matthew, and deals with Jesus Christ at the Garden of Gethsemane. In case you are not overly familiar with the story, it takes place the day before the Crucifixion. The details aren't so important to this discussion other than Christ goes to this garden to pray, knowing full well that He would be betrayed by Judas, turned over to the Romans, and ultimately put to death.

Now what's so insightful about that?

Well according to Christian teaching, Christ...being God...knew that by going to Gethsemane He would ultimately be put to death. At any point He could have changed His path and spared His own life, but He chose not to. He consciously sacrificed His own life, if you believe in Christian teaching, for the greater good of all mankind.

To this day, people make conscious choices for the greater good that ultimately lead to their death. For example Father Mychal F. Judge, a Franciscan priest, went into the south tower of the World Trade Center after it had been hit by an airplane to minister to the wounded. While history doesn't record whether or not he thought he would die, it's pretty clear he knew what he was doing was exceptionally dangerous.  I'm sure there are dozens of stories, year after year, of our soldiers making similar decisions.

In the final analysis, some of us will be faced with our own "Garden of Gethsemane", where we need to make a choice between self-preservation or the greater good. Ultimately that is the most personal of decisions that anyone can make, and furthermore I doubt any of us are prospectively capable of saying what we would do if put into that situation.  Present time simply can't adequately model that for us, which maybe is a good thing.  There is, however, no greater love that can ever be expressed than through the thoughtful and conscious act of sacrificing oneself for the greater good.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Competence

"...I was endanger of becoming competent."
                                                         - Peter Buck, guitarist for REM

I read a terrific interview (I think it was in Rolling Stone) with Peter Buck from REM.  The quote above really stuck with me.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if that's part of who I am.  I've always had this kind of mental wanderlust about me, getting interested in lots of different things, but yet never really going horribly deep into anything.  Maybe I'm secretly afraid of becoming competent.

I think I'm better described by a comment made by the CEO of my employer, who has noted his desire for a corporate culture that is "...no drama, low ego...".  I have both going for me, not that I can say it's resulted in stellar career success (other than still being employed that is).  The ego part is a tough one actually.  To be successful in a corporate environment, where success is measured by rapid advancement, "low ego" just doesn't cut it.  In as much as no one claims to like big egos, the fact remains that "too large" is mostly rewarded (think Donald Trump, Congress and every Rapper) in our larger culture.  "Too small"?  Mostly ignored.  Humility doesn't play well in America.

None of the above is cause for concern though.  The truth is that I'm fine with my low ego.  Pride?  Forget learning how to swallow it; I've mastered the art of chewing it.  And that's okay.

Now some deep thinkers also talk about ego as being the cause of many ills.  I'm not sure I completely agree with that, but I will say this:  The ego is kind of like a drug in that it may make you feel good, but it probably doesn't add all that much to your life over the truly long term.  Yeah, it might get you that big corporate title and all the trimmings that go with it, but when no one else is around and it's just you and your thoughts, does it make you demonstrably better as a human being?  The answer to that is above my pay grade.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Want a 34% Raise?


From the February 26, 2016 edition of the Scranton Times:

"...giving him a raise from $97,000 to $130,000..."

The "him" in question is the executive director of the Scranton Sewer Authority.  Another officer of the authority was also given a substantial raise.  You can read the article HERE.

The solicitor of the sewer authority said that the raises "...are to compensate the officials for all of their additional work related to the proposed sewer authority sale.".

Now I have no doubt that engineering the sale of the sewer authority requires significant effort on the part of the salaried professionals that run that organization.  But they are salaried for a reason:  They are paid to do whatever the job entails, even when that job did not initially entail a sale of the authority.

I've been working in the private sector for almost 30 years.  In none of that tenure I can't ever recall personally hearing of an executive, barring a promotion, receiving a 34% increase in base pay, not even for organizations without extensive bonus or other additional compensation arrangements.  Welcome to the magical world of Scranton and the public sector.

As a side note, should a teacher who during the school year gets additional special needs students in his/her class also get a 34% increase in pay?  I've known teachers and this kind of scenario happens.  And it creates a lot of extra work.

Again, I am absolutely sure that the Executive Director is doing a lot of extra work.  But that comes with the title of "Executive Director".  Should he be entitled for some remuneration for that work?  Of course.  Heck, maybe he should get some kind of performance bonus when the authority sale has concluded (and Scranton sells yet another fixed asset to help pay for on-going financial obligations).  Increasing a base salary by a third?  That's simply ridiculous.

Want to know what else is ridiculous?  The fact that no one seemed to notice or care about the 34% raise.

A few questions should have been asked in this case:

  1. How does the executive director's base pay compare to peers in similar locations?
  2. What other forms of compensation, both direct and indirect, does the executive director receive?
  3. Who actually came up with the 34% increase number?
  4. How was the 34% increase number determined?
  5. Is the executive director covered under a defined benefit pension plan, in which benefits are determined largely based upon final years compensation?
  6. Are there any other benefits provided to the executive director which are tied to compensation (such as life insurance)?

Look, it could be entirely reasonable to give the executive director this raise, but questions should have been asked.  This isn't about the executive director as a person either.  I'm all for anyone doing the best they can when it comes to being compensated well; I just think that heightened scrutiny is due when the public is forced to pay for that compensation (and the public has no choice but to pay this salary...it's not as if a Scranton resident can say "Well, I don't like this deal; I'm going to create my own sewer system".)

Scranton's authorities have long been shadowy, insider places.  This recent news item proves that tradition continues, robustly and with vigor.






Sunday, March 13, 2016

Blogroll

That listing of other blogs on the right hand side of this page?  It's called a "blogroll".  I guess that's easier than saying "list of other blogs".  Anyway, it requires some care and feeding.

Every few months I take a peek at the NEPABlogs page to look for new and interesting content and authors.  Note the use of the words "new and interesting".  I know, for example, that there are a number of well written local blogs about sports (and the Baby Penguins specifically), but I'm just not interested in that sort of thing.  Playing sports is one thing, watching it is yet another.  Reading about it?  That's not in my top 500 list of things to do.

There are other non-sports blogs that fail in the "not interesting" category.  For example...and not so shockingly...I am not interested in blogs about being a mom, raising children and/or motherhood.  Ditto on blogs about writing, weddings, crafts or other sorts of things.

All of the above noted, what am I interested in?

Well it's not always what you might think.  One of my favorite local blogs is no longer written.  Shockingly, it was about fashion and style...which I find incredibly boring...but it was written more or less from the perspective of a young professional.  I didn't care less about the stuff related to shoes, for example, but reading about what it's like to be a young professional in your late 20's/early 30's in NEPA was fascinating.  That sort of real perspective about what it's like to be _____________ (young professional, old professional, etc.; it doesn't really matter) is the kind of honest conversation that makes for great reading.  It's great when someone allows you to see the stuff you see all the time, but through their eyes.

There's also the political stuff, but I'll be candid:  A lot of it I don't actually read.  I like having it on my blog roll because the content tends to be updated regularly, but I find politics to be often times tedious.  I'll write about politics, but if I had to write about that all the time I'd pretty much hang up the keyboard for good.

I like reading about religion, so I do have one or two related blogs linked on sgalbert.  My favorite is J. A. Dick's wonderful blog Another Voice.  It should be required reading for local Roman Catholics.  I'll also include in this category a few blogs about personal growth and related topics.

My least favorite task along these lines is the couple times a year blogroll clean-up.  This is when I remove blogs that are no longer being updated.  Even if I don't even read the blog all that often, taking the link off of my site seems painful.  I keep thinking "but maybe they will start writing again, so I should leave the link", but sometimes that's more wishful thinking than reality.  At times it's like saying good bye to an old friend.

All of the above just goes to show that I can make pretty much anything difficult.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Pete Townshend Had It Wrong

From the iconic Who song "Behind Blue Eyes"...

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

You can see the rest of the lyrics HERE.

The longer I live, the more certain that Pete Townshend had it wrong.  It's not that no one knows what it's like to be the bad man; no, it's just the opposite actually.  There are many good men out there, but I think it's far harder to be one than the alternative.

I try, mightily I might add, to be a one of those good men.  I haven't always succeeded, but I try.  Sometimes it's the "bad man" that actually has it easier when you think about it:  Simply act on angry, emotional impulse.  Auto pilot engaged, problem solved.

As noted above, it's not easy on this side of the ledger.  I have forever in my life toiled over decisions that involved difficult circumstances, particularly for others.  In some respects...well in many respects actually...I know I've made decisions that were actually far easier for others than they were for me.  I don't regret these decisions.  In fact, I try very hard to regret basically nothing in life, as that seems like an enormous waste of time and energy that I'd rather spend on the here and the now.

Telling lies?  That seems easy.  Pondering over how to tell the truth in a difficult circumstance?  That's hard.

Popular culture romanticizes the "bad man" far too often.  Thugs are glorified in music and viewed in almost cartoon character terms.  Donald Trump is cheered when he talks about women, Muslims and Mexicans in disparaging terms.  I don't know if Mr Trump is truly a "bad man", but he does seem to act the part.  To his credit though, I think he's just parroting what American culture seems to be impressed with all too often, namely this notion of "winning" with little regard for how the victory is obtained.  We value the rogue, the pirate, the "break-the-rules" cop, and the vigilante.

None of this is hopeless.  One thing I have observed is that we like to see the "bad man" on television and the movies, but we don't necessarily want them living next to us.  Drama, it seems, is best left for screens, both big and small.  Put another way, Dirty Harry makes for a great movie, but when we need a real police officer, we'd probably prefer to deal with Frank Furillo.

(from turner)





Thursday, March 10, 2016

Legalizing Marijuana

Inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow blogger.

* * * * * *

I have a confession to make:  I am opposed to legalizing Marijuana, at least in one respect.

Yes, I know there are studies that show it's helpful for a few different ailments.

Yes, I know that it's likely just about has harmful as your average bottle of hard liquor, especially over the short term.  Long term?  Well the jury is still out.

Anyway, I still have reservations.  

Why?  

Well this may sound trite, but work with me for a moment.  I'm opposed to legalizing Marijuana as something that needs to be smoked in order to be delivered into the body.  Pouring anything like that into your lungs is extremely harmful, and I just as soon not see people turn their lungs into tar balls from any kind of burning vegetable matter, period. 

I also have this nagging sense that some who claim a medicinal need to smoke Marijuana actually just want to sit around, eat Doritos, and listen to the Dave Matthews Band (or Phish, Snoop Dogg, the Grateful Dead, etc).  That's okay, by the way, at least if one is intellectually honest about the pursuit.  Where I have problems is with the crowd that claims a need to get baked because they get headaches.  God made big pharma to tackle problems like that (see Advil).  Sacrificing one part of your body to help another just doesn't sound like good medicine to me.  

Now I get it:  Some of the medicinal uses of Marijuana can't be delivered in food or pill form (think cancer patients suffering from nausea, for example).  So why doesn't someone come up with a spray version of the stuff that could be delivered a-la inhaler style?  Maybe I'm being incredibly naive here, but if I were being treated for cancer, I'd likely want to do things that made me healthier.  Yeah, I know, some cancer treatments (such as radiation) are decidedly non-healthy, but they serve the greater purpose of killing cancer cells.  Deeply inhaling burning leaves and twigs doesn't serve that purpose.  Again, it's trading one bad things (smoking something) to relieve another bad thing (not eating).  

Oh, one other thing:  Don't give me the "But it's natural!" argument.  If it was "natural" for our lungs to be filled with burning crap, then we'd likely have some kind of better filtration constructed into our respiratory systems.  Simply put, smoking anything is the height of unnatural.  Radon is a naturally occurring thing; anyone want to argue that it's healthy?  The whole "natural" vs. "man-made" argument gets silly, as just about everything mankind creates is made from "natural" things.  If anything, it's combinations of "natural" things that are the problem.

Just my 3.5 cents.  For a more informed read on Marijuana, refer to this article on WebMD.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Random Bites of Hard Reality (Road Apples, #168)

If you are looking to food for comfort, well then you're going to be horribly disappointed...starting at about 2 minutes after you've finished eating.

Every Presidential candidate is flawed...because all humans are flawed; we need to adjust our expectations.

Scranton has a structural budget deficit because it spends too much money...both in the past and now.

Competition in the healthcare system is a great concept that falls apart in the face of reality; next time you have a heart attack try shopping for the highest quality doctor who charges the lowest reasonable price.

If you employ a child molester and you protect that person from prosecution that makes you an accessory to a very serious crime...regardless of your title (*cough* "bishop" *cough*).

If something has value it's worth paying and sacrificing for...college included (granted that sacrifice shouldn't be the monetary equivalent of a small home in Dupont).

Sometimes the best friend you can have is a furry one who never says a word.

Religion relies on faith, but faith doesn't rely on religion.

Any financial solution that relies on selling things (be they possessions or sewer authorities) is doomed to fail simply because at some point there will no longer be things remaining to sell.

If you want a completely unbiased media you'll first have to find completely unbiased human beings to run it...and good luck with that one.

Anyone who earns a commission selling your things (be they appliances, cars or financial services) is first going to look out for their own financial interest...the trick is to find out where that interest intersects with your interests.

One hundred years from now someone will still be singing "Hey Jude"...and a Fetty Wap will be a deli sandwich.

Healthcare may not be a right, but just try and live without it.

Employers who have employees in labor unions no doubt did something to deserve it.

Hunter S. Thompson was right:  The truth is never told between 9 and 5 business hours.

The only person responsible for your happiness is you.











Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Abuse of Children in Atloona - One Key Sentence

There have been several news reports surrounding the work of a grand jury that has investigated the abuse of children by religious in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona.  In reading an article in today's edition of the Scranton Times (You can find the article HERE), one sentence stood out for me as basically summing up much of the problem:

"But in a court filing, his attorney said the accusations against the 80-year-old Bishop Adamec are unfounded. He required 14 priests accused under his watch to undergo psychiatric evaluation, the filing said. Nine of them were suspended or removed from ministry, and the five who were reinstated never re-offended, his attorney wrote."

Ponder that for a while.  Let it sink in.

Now if you or I had abused children, we should rightfully go to jail.  Period.  Yet what has been repeated over and over again is the fact that church hierarchy didn't see that as being applicable to their priests or other religious.  No, those folks were allowed to be somehow rehabilitated and then, as noted above, re-instated.  It's as if they were baseball players who pulled a ham-string.

Yes, they get couch time with a mental health professional, with the possibility of full reinstatement. 

If it were you or I, it's likely our only option would be rack time at a federal prison.

ANY BISHOP who fails to see the disconnect between consequences in the religious life vs the rest of the real world is engaged in a level of hubris that goes beyond words or comprehension.

Here's how it should work:  Any priest or religious who is accused of abusing children should be removed from their ministry and subject to investigation by civil authorities.  Only after the investigation has been completed should a bishop be allowed to take further actions of any sort.

I'll end this on a more position note:  I was an altar server for ten years, and in all that time I never, not once, ever experienced any form of misconduct from any priest I served with.  If anything, the actions of bishops in disconnecting consequences of actions from the religious to the civil world have done significant harm to those priests and religious who truly lived their vows.  That's a harm though that falls a far behind what has been suffered by the victims of clergy sexual abuse.




Tuesday, March 1, 2016

When Ibuprofen Causes Headaches

I don't write about health stuff here, mainly because I am woefully unqualified to do so, and the world is ever so slightly better off by me not adding to the mess of crappy medical information on the Internet anyway.

The above run-on sentence noted, I have had something of a minor revelation to share.

My almost addiction to Ibuprofen was likely causing headaches.

Yes, this is a real, honest to goodness thing.  See THIS article in the "actual, real, legit medical stuff" website WebMD.

A bit of backstory is needed.

Going way back, I was born with pretty bad eyesight.  Having had two surgeries as a child to correct a problem with my eyes, I'm basically still left with being nearsighted in one and farsighted in the other.  It's a neat parlor trick of sorts, and it would be worth a laugh or three if it weren't for the fact that it also means I have horrid depth perception.  It also means that my eyes are easily strained, and for as long as I've been an adult I've relied on Ibuprofen to provide relief when that strain translated into a headache.

Over the years I've almost grown dependent on Ibuprofen.  I had a gigantic bottle of it at my desk at work.  And my desk at home.  And in the master bathroom.  How much would I be taking?  Well, let's just say I was taking it most days, and usually like 4 gel caps per day.

Now these things grow on you.  They really do.  A product works, so in typically American fashion, I figure that 4 is twice as good as 2.  And they worked by the way.  Ibuprofen almost always handled my headaches.

It all had to come to something a crashing stop about a month ago, as I was prescribed blood thinning medication.  See all the "I think I might be croaking" posts on this blog.  Anyway, blood thinners and Ibuprofen go together a bit like bleach and ammonia do...as in "not well".  Needless to say my Ibuprofen habit came to a crashing halt, and I haven't had any since late January.

The impact of stopping my Ibuprofen fix has been remarkable:  I actually haven't had any really bad headaches.  Seriously, I haven't.  On occasion I do take some Acetaminophen when I feel something coming on, and by and large it works well.  Now I know, thanks to the good folks at WebMD, that these kinds of re-bound headaches can be caused by Acetaminophen as well, so I'm being very careful with what I take.

There apparently are also a myriad of other bad things that can come as a result of over-using things like Ibuprofen.  See THIS article from the New York Times.

In the end I'm never going "Super Health Conscious Guy".  Heck, I still like to eat raw cookie dough and I still think Poptarts should be their very own food group (just the un-frosted ones, mind you).  But I am smart enough to realize that some solutions may actually be problems in disguise.  Lesson learned.