Not Cease from Exploration

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Birthday, Flowers, a Tooth, and Water

I truly miss Beavis and Butthead.  Anyway, one more complete revolution around the sun for me.  With a bit of luck, I'll be revolving (and evolving) for many more times to come.  If not, well, thanks for all the fish.

* * * * * *

Today was only the 3rd time in 29 years when I've worked on my birthday.  I've probably told the story here before about why I usually take my birthday off, but suffice to say it's a nice tradition when you can pull it off, which I couldn't this year.  Usually, by the way, when I would take my birthday off, my tradition was to plant flowers in front of my house, wherever that house happened to be.  This year, well, the flowers will have to wait for another day, but that's okay.  There's always next year to start a new tradition.  I did get a truck-shaped planter though as a birthday gift from my biggest cheerleader, best friend, and editor:

A notable event today, outside if it...a) being my birthday and b) being a working birthday...was the fact that I managed to crack a tooth while at work.  Luckily there is no pain, and in fact, it's not even sensitive to hot or cold.  I hope that's a good omen.  Tomorrow it will be a call to the dentist to see what's up.

* * * * * *

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?”
- David Foster Wallace

The above is from the book This Is Water:  Some Deep Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life.  You can find it HERE on Amazon.  I haven't recommended too many things over the years (almost 9 of them) on the blog, but I recommend this book.  It's well worth your time to read, so much so that I keep a copy at my desk at work.  It's also an incredibly quick read as well, making it all the more attractive.

I think that one of the advantages of getting older is that, like the older fish, you begin to have a far greater sense as to just what it is you are swimming in.  At least that's the case for me.  It's also one of the reasons why I think I'm more content now  than I've ever been:  I finally have some sense as to the water.

* * * * * *

There's another reason, why I used to take my birthday off:  I simply didn't like the attention.  I'm like that, by the way, in the sense that I can be the center of attention in an executive meeting or while facilitating some classroom event, but make me the center of attention to hand me a birthday card?  I become very uncomfortable.  Maybe, as I grow up/older, I'll get better at handling that sort of thing. Regardless, I am deeply touched by all the birthday wishes, be they on-line, at work, or at home today.  It means an awful lot to me, even if I have trouble expressing myself.

I am, in a word, blessed.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter (thinking about my brother)

(Chris & Rich, post some big holiday meal)

My late brother Chris loved to cook, so today being Easter made me think of all those times when he would be proudly planning some big holiday meal...and I would find excuses to mostly not actually have to eat it.  Now, in all fairness, my brother was a pretty good cook; it's just that I am not a very good consumer of food.  Chris did like to sometimes experiment with food, mostly in later years Hispanic dishes, which I, having the eating habits of petulant 7 year old, would not eat.  My mother would also complain that the food Chris would cook was "bland", but that was mostly her just finding a reason to be critical.  My late mother and my late brother both secretly relished arguing with each other, even when it was over the silliest of things.

Another part of not wanting to go to Chris' house for big family meals was the fact that, for so many years, I was always running from one family to another around the holidays.  It was maddening and not fun.  Instead of a holiday being something to look forward to and an opportunity to relax, it instead was this exercise in stress.  That constantly running around the holidays is something that I try to not impose on my own daughters, in that while I do want to see them as much as I can, I don't want to be the source of what I hated so much in years past.  I hope they understand that point.

Now while I wouldn't necessarily eat at my brother Chris' house over the holidays, I always did stop by to say hello.  In the early years, well, a hallmark of those visits would be the inevitable series of political debates.  In hindsight, I've found a word to describe those events:  Stupid.  Yes, they were stupid.  Arguing politics is about like arguing ice-cream flavors.  Subjectivity actually was the word of the day back then, but I just didn't realize it at the time.  As the years went by the political debates with Chris became less and less ardent, mostly because, in hindsight, my brother's interests in outside things was becoming slowly diminished.  Of course, in later years there was also the advent of having the drug dealer over for dinner, which at the time I found annoying, but then again my brother did have something of a bent towards the ironic.  Hindsight being what it is, I should have been far more than just annoyed.  Part of me wants to type "I should have carved the dealer instead of the ham", but I'm not a violent kind of guy.

So now I'm sitting here, stalling from having to change cat litter and then get ready to go to church (something I don't do all that often).  I am having my two (remaining) brothers over for Easter dinner today, which actually is something I'm mostly looking forward to, truth be told.  Part of what makes it enjoyable is the fact that I know they won't be running from place to place.  My sole NEPA-residing daughter will be stopping by later today as well...I just hope this doesn't require running around on her part.

Happy Easter one and all.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Existential Terror & Graduate School

I'm more than halfway through my final graduate school class, which when completed leaves me with just an industry exam waiting to be completed before I could add letters after my name (which I won't).  The better time to write about this might be when I am actually done with things, but by then I'm probably going to be so full of relief that actually writing about it will be #127 on my list of things to do.  While "counting my chickens before they hatch" is a valid argument against this post, recent events have shown that I'm likely going to, in fact, pass this final class (and in the spirit of full disclosure, I've passed all of the others too).

Why did I even do this?  That's a good question.  I think part of it was my late Mom.  While I've noted many times in the past that my mother could be a difficult human being, she did truly value education.  While not a college graduate herself, she was never the less encouraging of her kids getting an education, and I know that she was secretly very proud when two of us earned college degrees.  Over the years I had mentioned to my mother that I thought about going back to school, and her response was always "well then just do it" (or something similar, all be it coupled with a taking of the Lord's name in vain, as an added form of punctuation).  While she passed away before I started school, I know she would be proud of my having gone back.

Another reason to do it was simply that I enjoy a challenge, even when I know it will be a royal pain in the posterior.  It's almost as if I can see the "suck" coming at me, and I never the less have to stand there and meet it head on.  It's far less about an actual and formal education and far more about validating to myself that I'm actually capable of doing it.  Call that one vanity, or maybe even better so, a kind of searching for simply being worthy ("Well I must be pretty okay if I can get through this"), but mostly call it the truth.

A final reason?  Well, at the risk of sounding hokey, I just enjoy learning.  Of all the things that I am, one thing that I absolutely know to be true is the fact that I simply enjoy learning new things.  Not just things that make me a better person, father, employee, etc., but things simply for the fun joy of learning something new.  That's as true a statement about Steve Albert as any could ever be made.

What made it an easier decision was the fact that my (former) employer offered a generous educational benefit, although it's worth noting that, when all is said and done, I will have paid for about 40% of the degree on my own.  That's an easy one to get down about, but hey, they paid for more than half of it, and while I'm not there anymore (I'm a "retiree"), I get to keep the graduate credits they paid for never the less.  Good deal if you ask me.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Scranton is the 7th Saddest City in the United States (and here's why)

According to a list compiled by the website, Scranton Pennsylvania is the 7th saddest city in the United States.  You can find the whole list HERE, with the Scranton entry HERE.

I don't disagree with the placement.  Heck, it possibly should be ranked even higher.  I note this as someone who was born and raised in Scranton.  The city will always be my home, no matter where I live, for the rest of my life.  I realize though that Scranton is broken, badly.  Here's why I think "The Electric City" earned its placement.

1) Nepotism
I'll list this separately from corruption in general because it (nepotism) isn't about immediate financial gain, as opposed to, say, pay-to-play governance (also known as "Cordaro").

Everyone who has lived in Scranton for any length of time knows that, when it comes to the public sector, Scranton is a "who you know" kind of town.  If you're not from a politically connected family, by and large, it's far more difficult to gain employment in local or county government.  An effect of the nepotism is that many folks* who end up becoming public servants aren't the best qualified for their jobs.  What's more, because nepotism is so rampant, many who would be a good fit for public sector employment, folks who could add real value to how the city and county are governed, don't even bother trying to find employment precisely because they know the game is rigged against them.

What makes this far, far worse?  The simple fact that you won't hear the Mayor of Scranton, for example, ever talk about nepotism as being a significant problem.  Nor will you hear members of the school board.  Or City council.  It is the "silent epidemic" of Scranton that everyone knows about yet few admit.

Nepotism creates a kind of vicious, self-perpetuating cycle that drives down performance and drives up a propensity towards entitlement (especially among politicians), stagnation, and corruption.  This is why it's #1 with a bullet on my list.  Deal with nepotism and you can begin to deal with some of the other items on this list.

(*) But not all...I know some very dedicated Scranton public servants.  It's just that they are the exception, not the rule.

2) Corruption
Just one of many examples can be found HERE.  Scranton and the surrounding communities breed corruption like puppy mills breed genetic defects.  What's more, corrupt practices are practically embedded in the collective psyche of the area.  Like its cousin nepotism, everyone knows that Scranton is a corrupt town, but yet few viable candidates for mayor, for example, make fighting corruption even a campaign issue.  Why is that?  Simply put, most mainstream candidates for office in Scranton want to perpetuate bad practices simply because they view it as a kind of job perk, akin to getting an extra few vacation days per year.

By the way, is "fighting corruption" a campaign plank of Mayor Courtright?  See for yourself HERE.  The short answer is "no".   In fact, his campaign website is a single page that proclaims that Scranton is "on track".  How's that for educating the Electric City electorate?

3)  Low Expectations
Scranton's residents have chronically suffered from low expectations.  When I was younger, an area resident was considered to have "made it" if they got a job working for the Post Office or Tobyhanna Army Depot.  Let that one sink in for a few minutes.  It hasn' gotten much better.

A part of low expectations, at least in my experience, is a habit of being overly deferential to authority figures.  This shows up in a population that readily fails to question the actions and motives of those in power, be they Bishops or Mayors.  It's a kind of genetic imprint from back in the coal mining days when one was happy to get ripped off at the company store. 

4)  Class Stratification
Growing up, my Mom would tell me that, in Scranton, there were two kinds of Irish:  The Shanty Irish and the Lace Curtain Irish.  That's something of a microcosm for the city as a whole.  There are a number of well-off families in the area, of the sort that sends their children to Scranton Prep, who end up being the parents of doctors and lawyers who end up living in the nice sections of Green Ridge and Minooka.  At the other end of the spectrum are those with far less in terms of economic resources or even a template for economic success.  Yes, this isn't a wholly Scranton problem, but the city is something of a Petrie dish for the worst that class stratification brings to an area.

5)  Voter Apathy
The coal miner mentality is alive and well in Scranton, decades after the last mine closed.  Scranton's population routinely vote into office individuals who won't even utter the words "nepotism" and "corruption", let alone actually make structural changes to address past problems.  Well, the 30% or so that actually vote in municipal elections.  This isn't a party line voting issues either, as the city and county have voted in plenty of shysters from both ends of the political spectrum.

Ask a city resident about nepotism or corruption and you're likely to get a "well, that's just the way things are around here" kind of answer.  See above:  It's the same answer that those miners probably gave after having been ripped off at that company store.

6)  Public Sector Incompetence
Think of this as being an output of #1 & #5.  Scranton has been functionally bankrupt for decades, yet city leaders continue to plug budget holes with one-time revenue sources, proudly proclaiming that the city is "on the road to recovery".  As I've noted on the blog before, even the recent multi-million dollar windfall from the sale of the Scranton Sewer Authority will not solve the city's fiscal problems; all it does is bide time until bankruptcy.  Why?  Consider this:  Pumping tens of millions of dollars into the city's municipal pensions will not make them even close to fully funded (meaning that there aren't enough assets to cover future pension liabilities).  Yet the politicians running the city want voters to believe that fiscal recovery is just "right down the tracks".  It's not.  As I said a few sentences ago, Scranton is functionally bankrupt; all that's missing is the legal designation and the opportunities that such a declaration would bring.  

More proof:  According to data on the city's own web page, despite the dire fiscal situation facing Scranton, the cost of municipal government is continuing to grow.

(from THIS page)

The first rule of getting yourself out of a hole?  Stop digging.  Yet Scranton's leaders seem intent on increasing the costs of a government that city taxpayers can't actually afford.  Why?  Because they benefit from it.

Another example of public sector incompetence in action:  The former president of the Scranton School Board was a public transportation bus driver with a G.E.D. and the vast majority of Scranton voters found that perfectly acceptable.  At the risk of sounding elitist, I'll note that I have no personal qualms with the man (who still serves on the board), by the way, but shouldn't the residents of Scranton want someone running the school board who has a background in education?  Or finance?  Or legal matters?  For a well-written piece on the dire situation facing the Scranton School District read THIS blog posting by Tom Borthwick.  

* * * * * *

In the end, Scranton is sad mostly because it's voters are comfortable living in that sadness, as evidenced by their continuing habit of electing people to public office who, at best, routinely deliver mediocrity.  They shrug their collective shoulders, sigh, and move on.  As I noted previously, I love Scranton, and it will always be my home.  Yet I have no desire to live there, at least not anytime soon.  It's a town frozen in a kind of 1940's time warp, full of back-room dealings and coal barons who actively teach miners to be grateful for the crumbs thrown their way.  The worst part?  It could change, but it likely won't.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What's In A Name?

I don't believe that women should change their last name when they get married.

There, I said it.

Now if they want to, well, who am I to judge (to paraphrase a famous Pope)?  I'm not capable of fairly judging myself, let alone others.  But this is my ramble, so I'll continue.

Anyway, I've never liked the idea of a woman having to "become someone else" just because she got married.  This is especially true for my daughters (hint, hint, ladies).  It just seems like, well, a kind of ownership:  Frida Smythe becomes the property of Mr. Benny Jones and is, therefore, Frida Jones.  Please, can we at least make it "Frida Smythe-Jones"?  Why shouldn't it be "Benny Smythe" for that matter?  Or Benny and Frida Smythe-Jones?  

I had this conversation with both marriages, by the way.  I'll note that the second time around I was a bit more successful, although not because of any efforts on my part.  Ms. Rivers had been going through a difficult divorce when she decided that she wanted to "take back" her rightful Rivers-ness.  All well and good in my eyes.  When we knew we were going to get married, she told me in a fairly direct manner that she didn't want to be "Chris Albert".  I think she expected me to be somehow bothered or upset; actually, I was relieved.  It made practical sense as well, given that:

1) There already was a "Chris Albert".
2) The existing "Chris Albert" was, in fact, a "he".

Complimenting the conversation was the fact that we both decided we had enough children (in part because I didn't want to be going to a high school graduation in a walker).  This took the notion of what to call the children off the table.  I know that's more of a real issue for younger couples, but see above:  hyphenated names sound cool and sophisticated anyway.

Reasonable people can disagree with me on this one, and to be honest, I did some checking on the interwebs and mostly found people who wanted to change their last names.  All well in good.  In the end, what's in a name anyway?  Unless, apparently, that last name is "Drumpf".

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Old Photographs

My wife acquired some old photographs from years long ago, and I am quite frankly in awe of what I've seen.  Perhaps this is a phenomenon associated with second marriages*, but it's simply fascinating to see photographs of someone you love so dearly back from well before you knew them.  A small part of me seems to fall into a kind of wallowing, wishing I could have known her all those years ago.  The smarter part of me?  Well, it knows that, like any journey of note, you have to go "there" in order to get "here", and quite frankly "here" is where I am meant to be.

One of the reasons why I have a remarkable relationship with my wife is the fact that we've collectively been through a lot in life, up to the point where we discovered we were both occupying some of the same basic emotional space years ago (going through divorces, having career pressures, trying to be good parents, etc.).  Neither of us grew up in any sort of financial privilege, and both of us struggled with difficult relationships in our lives.  Seeing some of these old photographs made me angry in a way because I know some of the stories from when they were taken until now, and part of me wishes I would have been around "back then" to offer some kind of protection from what was to come.  I confess that sounds pretty crazy, especially since, in reality, that's now how life works anyway.  Besides, my wife managed to do reasonably well for herself, in spite of my lack of protection.

It's times like this when I'm reminded of just how lucky a life I've lived.  I say lucky because it just seems that I had been put in the places and situations I've meant to be in, even if (make that "when") at the time I was absolutely certain that universe was conspiring against if the universe, in its grandeur, actually would care what I was up to at any given moment anyway.  It's this perspective that has helped me with my recent job change.  I just need to be more mindful of that fact more often, namely that the here and now is where I am meant to be;  it's where all of us are meant to be.

(Wisdom from THIS page)

So looking at these photographs is certainly a different kind of experience for me.  But I think that, in totality, this is a kind of symbol...a reminder if you will...telegraphed from some other place to tell me that the past is relevant only to the extent that it can help us understand and (more importantly for me) appreciate the now.  Hopefully, the me of 5 years from now will look back at old photos from now and smile, ear to ear.

(Ms. Rivers, late 1980's; used with permission)

(Probably not the best matching sentiment for this posting, but hey, I like the song.)

(*) If you are in a second marriage, how did it feel when you looked at old photographs of your current spouse, back from before you knew them?  Odd?  Strange?  Unsettling?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Makers, Takers, and the Reality of the Gospel

There's been a ton of dialogue bounded about from the religious right, particularly in support of what may seem like conservative principles in government.  Some of that dialogue is centered around the ideas of self-sufficiency, supported by the notion that the "poor shall always be among you", that there are "makers" and "takers" in this country.  Pretty much an unbridled web of anger directed at those who can't seem to be just like them.  It's ironic, given the times, that so many on the religious right (Franklin Graham, etc.) seem to view Donald Trump as a kind of God-ordained savior.  This is a man who, regardless of your politics, clearly believes in the riches of this world, which is his prerogative by the way.

I'm reminded, though, from back in my C.C.D. days with the good Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, verses 36 to 40:

"Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and will all they soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and the great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

(King James Version; reference HERE...sorry Sisters!)

The next time a self-proclaimed Christian, such as Speaker Paul Ryan, proposes legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), how wonderful would it be to measure such a thing against those simple few lines?  Call me crazy, but if a new law could cause harm to your neighbor, then maybe it's un-Christian.  Now that could be called okay form a federal budget perspective, but it can't be called Christian, nor should the proponents of just such legislation be called that (Christian) either.  Far too many in federal elected office seem to leverage their "Christian" faith as a tool to woo voters, but yet fail to remember just how that Christian faith actually should operate in practice.

Again, this is pretty simple stuff:  If you are a Christian, you are commanded (not asked, but commanded) to love your neighbor as yourself.  No footnote there; no exclusions for "takers", no special love provided for "makers", no additional requirement to "pull oneself up by the bootstraps".  Just " thy neighbor as thyself".  I would want, for example, members of Congress to have substance abuse coverage in their healthcare benefit so maybe family members of theirs wouldn't needlessly die from a drug overdose.  Yes, if Speaker Ryan enjoys coverage for pre-existing conditions, for mental health care, or countless other benefits in his healthcare coverage (as a member of Congress), then he shouldn't be proposing that those things be excluded for others.  Period.  His willingness, along with President Trump, to strip away many of those things in Affordable Care Act replacement last week, in order to win over hard-right conservatives, is the opposite of "love thy neighbor as thyself".

Gut check here:  Is this a case of the "pot calling the kettle black"?  Am I engaging in hypocrisy here?  Those are reasonable questions, and the short answer is no.  You will not find the public me, as in what's written in over 1800 postings on this website, proclaiming myself to be a good Christian.  I'm not even sure I've referred to myself as being a Christian of any sort.  I simply don't deserve the title.  What I am, in two words, is "deeply flawed".  What I don't do is proclaim being a "Christian" in order to garner personal/political power while simultaneously disavowing the core tenants of that faith when it comes to taking action.  I'll leave that sort of thing to Speaker Ryan.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Repeal and Replace

As I write this, the news of the U.S. House of Representatives not voting on a replacement for the ACA is still fresh.  If anything, this is an important moment for several reasons:

1.  Theatrics.  How many times did the U.S. House vote to repeal the ACA during the Obama administration?  One thing is now remarkably clear now:  Those votes were theatrics, and the GOP knew it.  They were counting of losing, mostly because they knew then, and have been reminded now, that actually replacing the ACA is about governing, not politics.  Which brings me to the following...

2.  Governing.  The GOP can be masterful as an opposition party.  Seriously, they have that locked down.  Governing?  That is, as Ben Hoon observed, "Hard".  They are not prepared.

3.  There is no GOP.  There are GOPs.  There is no single Republican Party.  It's pretty clear now that the party is fractured along ideological lines, as Trump lost the votes of moderates in order to appease ultra-conservatives.

4.  It's Not Reality TV.  The debate about healthcare in this country isn't some slick commercial that runs 60 seconds or slogan that's repeated over and over again at a Trump rally.  No, it's deeply personal for many Americans.  It's about what happens when your grandmother gets sick.  Or when poor women need care.  Or when the middle class have to declare bankruptcy because of catastrophic medical bills.  The lobbyists and the inside the beltway spin doctors can grease all the palms they want, but in the end, healthcare is a common denominator in this country and it can't be "fixed" by a group of congressmen in two months.  Which brings me to the following...

5.  No, They Had Replacement.  There never a serious replacement alternative before Trump's election.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  They made it up over the course of two months.

6.  This Isn't the Democrats Loss.  Trump is already blaming the failure of passing an ACA replacement at the feet of the Democrats.  That is, to be blunt, horse$hit.  The House could have passed the ACA replacement with just GOP votes.  They simply didn't.

This is a multi-dimensional failure that will have repercussions for a long time to come.  The ACA is deeply flawed, needlessly complex, and divisive.  It needs to be replaced.  The fact that the GOP couldn't execute when given such an opportunity speaks volumes about how ideology can get in the way of substance.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Good Learn'n

I enjoy reading about human behavior.  That's something of an odd statement coming from what appears, at least on the surface, to be a STEM kind of guy.  Yes, I spent two years in Engineering in college, and yes, I've taken enough college level math courses to likely qualify to teach it, but I also suffer from an almost unbridled mental wanderlust.  I just can't keep my mind turned off, and sometimes those though go to that greatest of mysteries:  Why do we act they way we do?

I haven't found many concrete answers, but I'm going to keep looking.

What have I learned?

Well, from Melody Beattie, I've learned that adults are always responsible for their own behavior, unless they are so unhinged that they actually require institutionalization (my words, not hers).

From Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I've learned that it's perfectly okay to be a little bit weird.  Note that this is a great example of the difference between "learning" and "application".  The former I got in high school; the latter is a work in progress to this very day.

From Eckhart Tolle I've learned to always "be present in the moment".  Not exactly easy for me, but I'm always up for a challenge.  In other news, I just got a new (actually old) Tolle book to read.  His are the simplest most complex things in the world.

From Donald Trump I've learned that it's entirely possible to sell just about anything.  

From my daughters I've learned that what we do, especially as parents, has consequences.  When I look back over the past 30 years, sometimes I see a lot of turmoil.  When I deeply ponder things though, I realize that it was all worth it, because I ended up with three wonderful, professional young women that actually, truly, honestly call me "Dad".  I could fail at everything else in my life, but end up being a success simply because of them.

From Daniel Goleman, I've learned many things, including the fact that empathy is an actual, real super-power that's ours for the taking.  

"Empathy in leadership is particularly important for three reasons: the increasing use of teams, the rapid pace of globalization, and the growing need to retain talent. As anyone who has ever been part of a team can attest, teams are cauldrons of bubbling emotions. They are often charged with reaching a consensus - which is hard enough to do with two people, and much more difficult as the numbers increase. A teams's leader must be able to sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone around the table. The result is not just heightened collaboration among team members, but also growth in business."

From Gordon Livingston, M.D., I've learned that if the ground doesn't agree with the map, then the map is wrong.  Ponder that one for a moment.  How often do we end up following maps in our life that are wrong?

From my (late) Mom, I've learned the value of punctuality.  And cleanliness.  And the cost of harboring bitter feelings for far too long.  

From my first manager at my former employer, Paul A., I learned to "always promptly return phone calls".  Granted, back in those days we didn't have email.  Anyway, I always try to...promptly return phone calls...but the lesson was actually bigger than that, or so I want to believe.  It's more about just being respectful of others.

From recent events in my life, I've learned that I'm sometimes guilty of pridefullness.  This is not something I really wanted to admit, but while I'm being honest about "learn'n", it should be on the list.  In the end, things like job titles and salary figures are important, but they are far less important than the value of simply showing up at work, trying to make a difference, and them coming home.  Really coming home, by the way, both physically and mentally.

From my wife, I've learned that I must be relatively okay, otherwise she would have nothing to do with me.  I know, that sounds horribly self-effacing, and a tab bit over the top, but buried deep within the comment is a chunk of reality:  The company we keep says a lot about us, whether we want to admit that or not.

From Brene Brown I've learned many things, including the value of just simply showing up.

When I find myself not knowing what to do, simply moving forward has seemed to work reasonably well.  The importance of how you show up is something that I learned from a prior leader a few years ago.  

I could go on, but what's the point?  This kind of stuff...this important work...never really ends anyway.  Or at least it shouldn't.  At least not for me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I'll See You In My Dreams

Related to my last posting (HERE).

If you've never seen the Concert for George, well, you don't know what you've been missing.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


When I have my professional hat on, I often times talk about the need for clarity.  For the uninitiated and/or those who have lives, by "clarity" I refer to the basic desire we have to simply understand.  In the business world, clarity is important because we want employees to understand what they are dong...and probably more importantly why they are doing it.  Clarity is a cost of admission, if you will, for leaders who want their teams to go simply above getting the basics done.  Clarity is, as a respected colleague of mine once observed, king.

I also think that, even beyond my day job, clarity is still king.

There's been a bit of clarity that's alluded me related to my brother Chris, who passed away in January.  Not so shockingly, I might add.  How and why does someone so full of life at one time just seem to have that life snuffed out?  In some ways, it would have been far easier if he would have died in a car accident (although he had a few of those), but instead, he was more or less taken apart almost one molecule at a time.  Those who knew and loved Chris tried our best to help, but in the final analysis, it turns out that all we could do was just watch.  In a world that can be cruel, well, there are few things crueler than this.

As a side note, probably because of a cocktail of prescribed medication that no simulation could model the interactions, I can sometimes have extremely vivid dreams.  Given the utterly bizarre place that is my head normally, put me in R.E.M. (the dream-state, not the band) sleep with the previously mentioned pharmacology and you have the makings of an almost mystical nightly journey into the surreal.  We're talking Rod Serling here.  Thankfully that journey is almost never negative, but it's also almost never makes sense.  Except for the dream I had a week or so ago about Chris.  He was talking to me.  And he looked so vivid, so clear, so clean.  A far cry from the body I found in his house on January 5th.  I don't remember what he said to me in that dream, and quite frankly I don't know that it meant anything of a higher-power sort, but I do know that I woke up comforted.

Back to clarity.

When it comes to my late brother, we've been missing a key element, if you will, that could provide some much-needed closure...and...clarity.  We simply didn't know what caused his death.  Well, we do know now, in a way.  The details aren't important, over and above than to say that what we've learned from his official cause of death more or less repeats a narrative that dogged my brother for many years.  Yes, when it comes to clarity, we now know "what", but we don't know, on a deep level, "why".  That is likely to never change, ever.

In spite of the above, there are other things I do know, and despite my better judgment, I'll share a thought now.

I know that there were people in my brother's life who aided and abetted the choices he made, choices that directly caused his death.  While that's a tough statement to make, I'm going to ratchet it up a notch by saying that some of these people did what they did for their own selfish economic gain.  Over the years, the profit these people made from my brother was, in all likelihood, enormous.  I wish I could express the depths of anger I feel towards these people, but I simply can't.  As I've noted before, I wasn't born with the rage gene.  What I will say is this, directed towards those people who participated in the slow decay of my younger brother:

My hope is that one day all of you will have one still moment of perfect clarity, a moment where you'll be able to finally comprehend just how monstrous your actions have been (both for my brother and, no doubt, others).  In that one moment of perfect clarity, you will be completely and utterly terrified down to the depths of your soul at what you've done.  You will be filled with a blackness that no amount of light will ever be able to penetrate.  You enabled his death slowly, and the people that loved Chris got to see that unfold over years, all while you counted your profits.  Unlike what happened to my brother, I hope that the weight of your actions hits you all at once.  You should be terrified at the prospect.  And you should pray that our paths never, ever, cross.

Consider this my moment of clarity.

* * * * * *

If you or a family member struggle with an addiction, just know that where there is help, there is hope...and there is a lot of help available.  Just don't give up.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Help Resources for Veterans

Addiction.Org:  Help for the Family

Saturday, March 4, 2017

4 Months

What I've learned, looking back over 4 months (mid-October through mid-February) of a life in flux, filled with job and family member loss.

  • Your Body Rebels.  Put enough stress on yourself and your body will, in fact, rebel.  And we're not talking about rebellion as in your kids refusing to eat peas.  No, we're talking various parts and systems screaming "f&^k you!" while falling face first into a gutter, with all the gusto of a drunk at the Scranton St. Patrick's Day parade.
  • You Can Overdose On Thinking.  This one is easy and hard, both at the same time.  I spent more time thinking and contemplating than a human probably should, and most of it wasn't helpful.  Yes, of course, we should all be reflective, but too much of anything isn't healthy, reflection included.  Some things don't have answers, and ruminating over them continuously serves no useful purpose, other than inching you one step closer to psychosis.
  • Emotions Aren't That Predictable.  There have been times when I'd easily give one of my lessor-used fingers for fifteen minutes of pure, unadulterated anger.  Or sorrow for that matter.  It would be a wondrous purge of sorts, a working out of the poison.  And yet, for the life of me, I just can't do it.  I just can't give up that control.  
  • We Search For Routine.  I did:  I replaced work routines with other routines.  Forget about watching all of those videos I've been holding onto, forget about afternoon trips to the movies, or other fun stuff.  My psyche needed to replace what it knew with something very similar.  Oddly enough, I think I was reasonably productive during my 4 months.  I got stuff done.  And yet not much of it felt fulfilling.
  • Who Are You?  I had to face who I was during my 4 months.  Now I thought I knew this, by the way, but I really didn't.  The good news is that I'm closer now.  This isn't about mindless reflection (see above), by the way; no, this is a starring in the mirror kind of thing and seeing yourself with the veneer of "well I'm a __________ (insert title)" fully removed.  Big reveal:  We aren't what we do from 9 to 5, not in totality.  Those kinds of things are fleeting*.  They are a vaporware of the worst sort, as they literally can disappear with a 30-second video call letting you know that your services are no longer required.
  • You're Never Prepared.  No amount of mental preparation readies you for the major shocks in your life.  I'm convinced that mental toughness can't be saved up for a rainy day.  Those sorts of my case, the loss of a job and the loss of a brother...defy preparation at an almost genetic level.  How you face these things, unlike say pride in a job title or a paycheck, actually does define who you are as a human being.
  • Separating The Wheat From The Chaff.  Big shocks help you separate the wheat from the chaff in your life.  I'm convinced, utterly so, that western culture (particularly business culture) creates a kind of phantom universe of sorts, where sincerity is full of dependencies.  The reality is this:  There will be some people you work for in your professional life who will do everything in their power to convince you that they do, in fact, care about you as a human being.  But many actually don't, at least when you cease working for them.  Call that one as you like, but empathy shouldn't be conditioned by employment.  Now, while that may be a downer, there is an upside:  When that change in your employment status occurs, you'll be (positively) shocked at who does reach out to you with a helping hand.  Yes, the disappointment you may feel at some will be replaced and overwhelmed by the satisfaction of knowing that there are plenty of good people in this world who are pulling for you.    

All of this has now happened before, and it very may well happen again, and while I will never be fully prepared, I now have the advantage of experience as a guide.  I'm also committed to being a better human being thanks to these experiences.  I didn't get to choose this path, but I'm going to walk it with purpose nevertheless.

(*)  As wonderfully articulated in the song "Minutes to Memories" by John Mellencamp:

"This world offers riches and riches will grow wings.
But I don't take stock in those uncertain things."

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Road Apples, #171

Irish People Eating [        ]...a brilliant series of videos on YouTube.  You can watch one HERE.  I've spent over an hour watching these clips, with no regrets.

News Boycott...I'm still mostly engaging in my national news boycott.  And I have no compelling reason to change.  Mind you, I'm staying informed, it's just that I have no use for the theatrics of the Trump Administration or the news media that's feeding it.  On both sides of the political spectrum by the way.  Donald Trump will go down in history as the worst president in this country's history, of that I am sure, but part of that story will be lost because of how the media has chosen to cover the man.  Here's a suggestion:  They are not "alternative facts"...if you or I did it they would be called "Lies".

In Nausea News...I had my first ever case of Norovirus.  I don't like to throw up (I know, who does?), and in fact, it takes me a lot to get to that point.  But last week, well, it happened about six times, in succession.  And other things happened as well.  A week and a half later there are still some things that I just can't be around, as the smell makes me want to gag.  I also can't seem to stomach diet cola for some reason.  Maybe there is a silver lining to this past storm after all.

Just to add a coda of sorts to the throwing up part, well, the cold I had before talking to Ralph has come back with a vengeance.  I'm shocked as to how much worse my asthma makes having a cold.  It's like a turbo-charger of suck.

What's I'm Listening To Now...A Flock of Seagulls.  Really take a moment to listen to the guitar parts in "I Ran" and "Space Age Love Song"'ll be shocked as to how good of a player Paul Reynolds was, back in the day.

At the time he was very, very young.  Sadly, he doesn't seem to play much these days.  As I understand it, he had something of a breakdown just two years or so into his time with AFOS.

9/10ths...In about a week or so I will be 9/10ths of the way done with my graduate degree coursework.  After completing my last class I need to pass an industry exam and then, well, I'll be a fully fledged Villanova graduate.  In an odd sort of way, the timing could not have been worse.  During my time working on the degree I've had more than a few major life events, but yet, the show (or in my case "the paper writing") must go on.  More than anything else though, I've promised myself and Ms Rivers that, after the final class, I'm going to start to throttle back my life a bit.  It's time to end doing things because I feel as if I have to, and it's time to start doing more things that I just plain and simple enjoy.  All of that is a just a few months away, and I'm very, very glad.

The Expanse...I don't watch much television, but I'm never the less intrigued by the SyFy channel's "The Expanse".  So much so that I'm going to buy the first season on DVD.

One Week (in the can)...Prior to Monday the 20th, the last time I was a new employee somewhere Ronald Reagan was still President.  I seem to have survived the week, although physically it was on the difficult side (see above).  My mantra, more than anything else, is that this time I'm doing it for me...not to climb some corporate ladder, not to impress anyone, not to somehow prove something to anyone other than myself.  One of the many blessings in my life has been that I am now at a place where I can actually think in those terms, although I will note that old (and bad) habits relating to competition (both real and imaginary) are hard to break.

Finally...I don't write much about dreams in this space, mainly because a) I usually don't recall them, and b) Ascribing meaning to them is about 6 degrees of new-age too much for me.  That noted, I had a dream last night that my brother Chris was talking to me.  I don't recall what he said.  I do recall that he looked well, full of color and full of life.  I'll gladly have that dream again.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Watch

In years past, upon retirement, a (former) employee would get a gold watch as a parting gift.  Perhaps it was a way to symbolically acknowledge the significant time people put into their careers.  A fitting custom in my mind.

These days, well, I'm not sure that custom is still being followed.  Maybe it's because the modern employment dynamic is such that people just don't spend significant time at a single employer anymore.  Maybe people just don't wear watches.  Maybe people just don't view the notion of retirement in the same way as was done in the past (just notice that greeter at Wally World next time you need to stop for motor oil, fishing bait, and a can of baked beans).

What does any of the above have to do with me?  Plenty actually.  For those who aren't paying attention (and I can't blame you for that), I was retired by my former employer after almost 28 years of service, with my last day as an official employee being December 12, 2016.  To call the process of becoming retired easy, well, that would be a lie.  It's been pretty tough on me, and I'm not one to readily admit much of anything when it comes to such things.  In the months since I left the office there were many long drives, many "what if ______" thoughts running through my head, many times when I would literally sit and yell at my computer screen (mostly because it, unlike my cats, didn't seem to take the yelling personally).

I also, by the way, got a watch.

Yes, as a "retiree", and based upon my years of service, I was entitled to receive a retirement gift from my former employer.  I was given an on-line catalog of things to review, including such choices as...

...a mountain bike (no thanks, I have a very good one already)
...a set of power tools (I already have more than I need...seriously) clubs (only if my wife and I were both really retiring together)
...a village full of Lladro figurines (I'm a guy....)
...a telescope (I'd use it once and then it would sit in a closet for 15 years)
...a metrosexual messenger bag (I have a half dozen ways to carry a laptop already)

...and then where was a watch.

I used to wear a watch all the time, by the way, but then came more health concerns and I ditched the Timex for a Fitbit HR.  Certainly functional, but it also kinda looks like something that a convict on work-release would be wearing.  I also have managed to bang it up quite a bit over the past year, to the point where it looks about five times older than it really is.  Not especially classy.
So I picked a watch as my retirement gift.  It's heavy, fancy, solar and it has little dials that I can't particularly read anyway.  That was two weeks or so ago, and the watch has been sitting in my office, on its own little watch pillow, waiting to be used.  More specifically, I promised myself that the fancy retirement watch would stay on its fancy little watch pillow until such time as I got myself un-retired from the workforce.  Put another way, I'd only wear it if I had a job to wear it to.  And I'll be putting it on tomorrow.

Before I go further, I'll note (probably again, for the Nth time) that I don't especially believe in the notion of "fate".  I also don't believe in ghosts, the supernatural, bigfoot, that the Patriots are completely innocent of all cheating charges, or that Roman Polanski is anything but a child-molester.  But events have certainly given me pause (not about the Patriots or Roman Polanski though).

Going back a few weeks, I noted in this space that I found my younger brother after he had passed away.  I likely wouldn't have done that if I were at a new job at that time.  It was almost as if I need to be available to find him so that my older brother or his wife wouldn't be the one's who did.  A man of greater faith than I would likely say that was an act of fate...for faith..or some kind of intervention that is beyond my cosmic pay-grade.  Add to that list the fact that my new career adventure really didn't materialize in a meaningful way until the Monday after my brother's funeral Mass.  It was as if I needed to finish that work before the new work could begin.

I'll note with some pride that, during my last round of job interviews, I wore a tie that had previously belonged to my brother.  Like so many around me during this "retirement" period, Chris (the brother, not the wife) had far more faith in me than I did in myself.  He knew...heck, he told me outright, several times before he passed...that I would land on my feet and that everything would be okay.

My brother Chris was not alone in the faith-in-me department.

Throughout this period, I've had a cadre of people who have listened to me, provided me with sound advice, made me laugh when I didn't want to, coached me, and, like my brother Chris, filled my faith bucket when I had nothing left to add to it myself.  Jean, Luke, Connie, Allan, Robin, Rich, Leslie, and others (for those I have not named I do are not forgotten) have helped me more than I could ever possibly and rightfully acknowledge.  There literally was a "Team Steve", with the CEO being my wife.

Looking back over these past few weeks and months, three things stand out for me:
  1. I have a renewed sense that maybe, just maybe, all of what we encounter in life may not just be some random act of chemical chance.
  2. I have a renewed appreciation for those who are under or unemployed.  If that's you, well, reach out to me and I'll do my best to help you in some way, just as others have helped me.
  3. It's okay to need help.  It really is.  This will probably always be a lesson in progress for me. 
Looking ahead, I have new colleagues to meet, new challenges to be overcome, and a new watch to wear.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Shadows Falling In A Land Of Confusion

"Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath, keep me in your heart for a while"
- Warren Zevon

* * * * * *

I don't know why the title is associated with this posting, other than the fact that it just occurred to me.  What I do know is that I feel, well, strangely kind of vacant.  Empty.  Tired and spent, if you will.  Part of this all relates back to the whole notion of being between careers, at least for me.  I am, simply put, a very poor career seeker.  I despise marketing myself.  I have difficulty initiating conversations solely for the sake of networking.  I like order, and personal uncertainty (as opposed to, say, the professional variety...which I have no problem with) can be challenging for me to mentally manage.

I know, this career change stuff isn't supposed to be a picnic for anyone, and I know some folks that have struggled with this before and someone who struggles with it now.  Yet that clarity is of little help.

Making all of this even more difficult is the fact that the in-between careers part actually is coming to an end.  As testimony to just how difficult this has been for me, I offer the fact that, even in the face of a victory, I still have this vacant feeling.  My wife asked me one morning "Aren't you excited about...?", and I didn't say yes.  I couldn't say yes.  None of which is a reflection, by the way, on my new career.  If anything, I have righteous reasons to be happy and excited, yet I'm mostly tired.

Now I am not an athlete, nor do I play one on television (you have to be old to get that reference), but I imagine that this might be how someone feels after completing a long, arduous marathon.  Victory lap?  Nope, I'm mainly just glad that I no longer have the (career) Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.  I am looking forward to new challenges ahead, but yet, it feels as if I'm still waiting to fully exhale.

When this whole career change adventure began, I kept a written diary of sorts.  The idea, back then, was that I would chronicle the process of losing and finding a career.  It would be dramatic, insightful, full of emotions...all of the things that garner high page hits.  Yet I haven't used any of that material, nor will I likely ever.  It just doesn't feel right.  I will though offer the following, if for no other reason than the fact that it's instructive to how I've been feeling:

(Written two days after being told I would be "retiring")  
All told, I'm still in this fuzzy kind of, almost conflicted, place.  I know that in the grand scheme of a life, this change...thrust upon me as it still going to be good.  But yet, and at the risk of evoking unwanted pity, I can't help but mourn for this loss.  I've felt this way before when I was going through a divorce.  Complicating matter is the fact that I am naturally just so very impatient.  I want this solved now.  My lesson from going through a divorce is that, to be blunt, "it just doesn't work that way".  I remember back then when others (who had been through a divorce) were telling me that "it's a process", and feeling very discouraged, as I have no need for "a process"...I just want a resolution.  This is what impatience rearing it's ugly head actually looks like, and for me it's frightening.

(Written in mid-November)  
There are times when I just wish...and I really do wish...I could just explode in a fit of rage, alone in my truck, for about 30 minutes...and then be done with it all.  I'd yell out all the anger and disappointment I myself...and it would somehow be purged for good.  It would be a grand and glorious exercise.  It would be healing.  But that's not to be because that's simply not me.  

This morning, driving back from my once a week breakfast out ritual I felt as if I was "this" close to an emotional outburst.  It just doesn't happen.  It's as if I'm one of those World War II-era Jeeps with a governor installed on it, so that, in my case, I can't exceed an emotional speed limit of 40 miles per hour.  It reminds me of how I felt after 9-11:  I was angry and emotional, but I just couldn't get it out.  It had to stay bottled up inside as if its exposure to the natural world would somehow cause a catastrophe of global proportions.  

In point of fact, I am angry.  Very angry.

I'm not angry at my former employer, or my former vice president.  Heck, in all likelihood they've done me a tremendous favor, and at this junction, I just can't imagine going back, in spite of how I feel.  No, I'm angry at me.  Furious at me.  Livid.  I somehow allowed this all to happen through sheer sloppiness. 

* * * * * *

Those are two samples of a larger population that, like the older radios I collect, will likely never see the light of anyone else's day.  I bring them up now, in part, to give myself a kind of emotional permission for feeling the way I do.  Having been raised in a highly controlled environment fueled with quite a bit of guilt, having permission is something that's important to me.  I strongly suspect that this is part of the exorcism that I need to undergo before the new career adventure begins:  This vacant feeling is probably designed to make room for many other things, new things, to shortly come.  All told, that's probably a good thing, although I still dislike the uncertainty.

On a final note, this wasn't how I had planned to actually talk about my career search coming to an end.  In fact, I have a whole other posting, titled "The Watch" written and edited, ready for the publish button.  Unlike the above sampled Land of Confusion journal entries, that will still see the light of day, soon I will add.  As for now, well, it's Monday evening* and I'm not quite sure that this is the right thing to publish.  Maybe I'll feel differently tomorrow morning.  That's a common feeling for me by the way; as of this writing, I have 66 unpublished draft postings waiting in the wings, waiting for "tomorrow morning".

(*) Tuesday morning came and went, and I just couldn't get myself to actually re-read this posting.  For whatever reason though, the time seemed to  be right at 9:30 pm on Tuesday to tackle the task.  What you see above is, more or less, what I wrote on Monday evening, all be it with a few tweaks.  I did struggle a bit with the question as to whether the posting is too "dark".  In retrospect, while it may seem less than uplifting, it is honest, and sometimes that's the best outcome you can hope for in life (and blogging).

Monday, February 13, 2017

5 Questions, #2 - Preparing for the Hereafter

Preface:  It's almost taboo in the United States to talk about funeral planning and the like, but recent events for me have highlighted just how important this sort of thing can be.  Oh, and no, your local funeral parlor is not paying me to write this posting.  However, if they wanted to chip in...

* * * * * *

1) Why bother?  You'll be dead anyway.
As my (late) mother grew older, I helped her with many of her financial matters.  One of the things we did was purchase a burial plot for both her and my Dad.  Kind of ironic, given the fact that the two of them never got along, but death does have this way of sewing peace where life made that previously difficult.  Anyway, when my Mom did pass away in 2013, having many of those decisions already made was a big blessing.

Conversely, when my brother Chris passed away, there were no details, no plans, no Will, nothing.  It was all left up to two brothers and a wife to make all of the decisions for his arrangements.  It was, in a very real way, the exact opposite of the experience we had with my Mom, making a stressful time even more stressful, needlessly so I'll add.

Fast forward to now, and the thought of burdening others with having to make decisions for me is nauseating. I never want that kind of attention.  In fact, I've spent a lifetime (and hopefully many years to come) trying to keep my act together, so there's no sense in letting it all fall apart when I pass away.

Added to the above is the fact that I very much want to spend eternity with my wife.  Wherever I go, I want her to go as well (or wherever she goes I want to go as well).  As noted, for the rest of the posting I'll be mostly referring to "we", as I'll try to speak for the collective "us".  My wife can correct the record on any of this if she wants.

2) Cremation or Casket?  Above or below ground?
We're not sure on either count.  My brother Chris was cremated, and it seemed to be a very dignified, almost "clean" way of having remains.  Also, the thought of not being in the cold ground (as if I'll be able to tell anyway) is appealing.  Prior to the arrangements for my brother, I never would have considered cremation.  Now?  Well, I think it's something everyone should consider.  Even the Catholic Church seems to approve (see HERE).

3) Where?
Good question, and on our collective "to do" list for 2017, we have, among wallpaper removal, and driveway paving, a decision on a burial location.  A key driver for us is the idea that we want to be in a place where we can be visited, or, God forbid, one of us could visit the other.

Me?  Well, I want somewhere with trees.  And rabbits.  When I went to Penn State Harrisburg (in Middletown, PA), there was a cemetery near the main campus classroom building.  I'd walk by the cemetery on the way to the athletic building and I'd see all these giant, well-fed rabbits hopping along the tombstones.  In a way, it seemed as if their job was to somehow keep the deceased company.  I found it oddly peaceful.  Anyway, yes, rabbits.

We've talked about a few places, but nothing even remotely close to decided.  A big "what if" is where we will eventually retire.  If it were up to me, well, that place would be about five degrees warmer than northeastern Pennsylvania.

4) Services?
I was born and raised Roman Catholic, so it's natural to think of a Funeral Mass when the time comes.  However, and this is a big "however", I don't like hypocrisy, especially my own.  I don't ascribe to all of the tenants of the Catholic Church, and I'm just not sure that I want to portray the diligent Catholic upon death.  This is, by the way, something that my wife and I have talked about from time to time.  Call this one a "TBD".

5) Any special instructions?
You bet...I have plenty...all written down and saved to flash drives.  Yes, I am that anal-retentive.

* * * * * *

End Note:  This is important stuff.  If it pleases you, do laugh, guffaw, snicker, ridicule or whatever else you want related to this posting.  But with all the seriousness that I can muster, please do also talk to your loved one(s) about this topic...not for you, but for them.  Make their job easier when your time comes.  It matters, a lot.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Scranton Follies

I find this whole issue of naming the Harrison Avenue Bridge replacement to be equal parts fascinating and disturbing.

Idea to Name Bridge After Former VP Biden Abandoned

Here's an analogy for you:

(Photo from THIS site)

You are coming home from getting a new kitten at the local shelter.  

Your car gets struck from behind by someone driving a truck.

The truck driver comes out to see if you're okay and notices the kitten.  He asks, "what's the kitten's name?".  

The police arrive.  The nice police officer sees the kitten.  He also asks "what's the kitten's name?".  The police officer and the truck driver get into a long debate about naming the kitten.

You stand there, wondering why no one seems to care about you or car that was carrying you (and the kitten).

* * * * * *

The City of Scranton is functionally bankrupt, meaning that its liabilities far, far exceed that of its assets.  It can't substantially raise taxes anymore (see below), and its leaders lack the political will to demonstrably reduce the costs of providing city services.  Even with the infusion of tens of millions of dollars from the sale of the city's last remaining major asset, municipal pensions will STILL be substantially underfunded, and at best all the city can do is to plan on making the required on-going* contributions.

To this backdrop we see local leaders engaged in a heated discussion about naming a bridge.

Call me crazy, call me insane, call me anything but late for supper, but Scranton is in crisis.  All of its leaders (city council, mayor, state representatives, etc.) need to be focused on creating a fiscal plan that brings solvency without increasing taxes on...

Residents - Scranton already has the second highest wage tax in Pennsylvania.

Businesses - Scranton's business taxes are punitive and include, among other things, the taxation of gross receipts, so even a money-losing enterprise must still pay into the city.

Yes, it's that bad.  But that's okay, as there's been a robust discussion about naming a bridge.

File this one under Bread and Circuses, Scranton style.

(*) From what I gather, the city will be making current contributions, but will not be doing anything...other than dumping proceeds from the sewer system increase the pension funding percentages.  Put another way, while sewer system sale will infuse cash into retirement investments, it comes far short of funding the pensions at 100%.  Reference HERE.  If this doesn't scare Scranton residents, well then nothing will.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

5 Questions, #1 - The Career Tango

Note:  I readily admit that I've stolen this topic format from the Lu Lac Political Letter (HERE).  I don't feel too bad about it though because I strongly suspect that other bloggers have "borrowed" the basic concept behind my Road Apples postings.    And who says there is no honor among thieves?

* * * * * *

1) How's the new career hunt going?
I'll keep you posted.

2) So, just what do you do with all this free time you have?
The ironic part is that I don't necessarily have that much more "free time".  I just simply like to be occupied and engaged at all times, so lounging around and watching sports is just not my bag.  That noted, here's what a typical day looks like:
  • Wake up at about the same time as usual (before this whole change occurred)
  • Shower and get dressed.  Take my youngest stepson to school, while forcing him to listen to obscure music (for the record, he actually enjoys the Ramones "The KKK Took My Baby Away").  
  • Come home, eat breakfast and spend about an hour reading through the half dozen or so job feeds I get.  Decide which I want to follow-up on, which is typically best described by the following two words:  Not Many.
  • Go to the gym and try to injure myself* while working out to the Steve Wilkos Show.
  • Grab a bite to eat.
  • Head home and either work on job search tasks and/or projects around the home.  The job search tasks include following up on previous opportunities, telephone calls with some real angels who are actually helping me, sending emails, researching organizations, etc. 
  • Greet my lovely wife when she comes home from work.
  • Help (and or just make) dinner, eat and clean-up afterwards.
  • Work on graduate school stuff in evening until I get too tired to read and/or comprehend.
I know, quite the rock-star lifestyle, huh?  Or, since I've been living in West Pittston now since the end of 2013, maybe I should be saying "hayna?"?

3) What are you looking for in a new career?
I have a short attention span, and my mind, admittedly, can move pretty quickly when I am working on things I find interesting.  Oh, and I'm 90% of the way towards a graduate degree in Human Resources.  All this means that I'm looking for an HR position that provides plenty of challenges, working for an organization where I can make a difference.  I know, that sounds so campy, but I'm being honest.  You can find more out about the professional me on LinkedIn.

4) You keep saying "career" instead of "job".  Why?
When you are in high school you have a "job".  By the time you become an adult, hopefully you have figured out what you like to do, and how you can maybe get paid to do just that sort of thing.  That's the difference between a "job" and a "career".  Admittedly, we all sometimes just have to take a "job" in order to pay the bills, but that shouldn't stop anyone from finding a career.

5) Any advice for others looking for a new career?
Since I'm not across the job search finish line, I'm probably not the best person to be giving advice.  However, since I've broached the subject:
  • It's not just you - This kind of thing (leaving an employer) happens all the time.  You'll be shocked just how many people have been down this path...and who will be willing to help you out because they know what it's like to walk in your shoes.
  • Stay positive - This is very, very hard, but you can't let this change become an all-consuming negative cloud over your head.  Make time to still do things that you find enjoyable.  
  • Don't blame - Never, ever allow yourself to become overcome with anger and bitterness towards your former employer, boss, co-workers, etc.  With very few exceptions, the vast majority of folks are good people, just trying to do their job in the best way they know how.  We are all equally flawed and fragile and we all fail from time to time.  If you feel injured in some way, forgive.  If you can't forgive, well work on forgetting.
  • Gut-check - Use this as an opportunity to gut-check what you do for a living.  You may never get another chance like this, so take advantage of it.
  • Ask for help - See the first bullet.  As a very smart person told me early on in this process, people want to help you, but they will wait for you to ask for that help.  Whether you are an executive or a front-line soldier in corporate America, all of us will need help once in a while.
  • Remember the feelings - As you go through this process, remember the feelings, both good and not so good.  For the "not so good" feelings, well, learn from them and commit to helping someone else in the future who may be similarly struggling; this way you can take that "not so good" and turn it into something positive.
  • It gets better - I'm still telling myself this one, but this process will end, and it will get better.  It's not a question of "what", but rather of "when".    

(*) Lesson learned the hard way recently.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tough Guy Jesus (Gospel of Matthew, 21:12)

I love many of the stories in the Bible, especially those contained in the gospels.  Now I'm not trained in theology, I do like to ponder such things.  One of the stories that I find the most intriguing...and I think in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21, verse 12.  It goes like this (from the King James version of the Bible):

"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves."

I've heard many religiously knowledgeable folks (okay, I confess, mainly television preachers) talk about how this made Jesus a kind of tough guy.  I've even heard it used to justify violence, along the lines of "Jesus did it, so therefore...", "It's okay to be angry because Jesus was...", and the like, as if God were somehow capable of being as upset as we get when the neighbor's dog leaves a present in our front sidewalk (which actually happens...quite a West Pittston, Pennsylvania).

Me?  In my theologically novice kind of way, well, I think the whole "tough guy Jesus" thing is a load of crap.  

In fact, the truth behind this whole story is actually the opposite of the whole "tough guy Jesus" narrative.  I don't think it's telling us to be violent.  I think, instead, it's telling us that in order to be more "Christ-like" we are obligated to not be apathetic, especially in the face of something that's clearly wrong.  We need to act.  Sitting on the sidelines in the face of perceived evil doesn't seem to be what's expected of us.  That's the example Jesus was setting, at least in this layperson's opinion.

All of this comes to my mind, in a very timely sort of way, as I think about the actions of the Trump administration.  It's time to not sit on the sidelines.