Search This Blog

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Raising Taxes on Struggling Students

I've never called a politician before, until today, and I did that three times.
The situation noted in the article below is simply shameful. As the proud parent of a Ph.D. candidate, words can not express how furious I am at this provision of the current tax bill. Raising taxing on future scientists...people who will cure diseases and make all of our lives better...all for the sake of lowering a corporate tax rate is short-sighted at best. We should be encouraging folks such as my daughter...not using the tax code to punish them.
This is the antithesis of "Making America Great Again".

I fully acknowledge that this is an issue for which I am personally invested.  I also acknowledge that, in all likelihood, my wife and I will likely end up with a lower tax obligation if the current bill in Congress becomes law.  That's of little consequence though when you consider the value that science...and scientists...brings to our nation.

I highly doubt that the two messages I left with Senator Toomey's office will be acknowledged.  But then again I can look myself in the mirror and say "I did the right thing".

A future scientist and her Dad, many years ago.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sometimes Help...and Hope...Comes in a Small Package

I had to be somewhat prodded into pet ownership in November of 2010.  I was (newly) living in an apartment by myself, and in retrospect, coming home to a completely empty place wasn't very healthy for me.  My oldest daughter Katrina had a friend who had two kittens that needed to be adopted, so, as she is skilled at doing, she convinced me to act in spite of myself.

The actual kitten selection process was to take place in a parking lot somewhere that I now forget.  On the drive over, Katrina and I pondered the various possible names for a new cat.  I really wanted to name the cat "Bill" as in "Bill the Cat"...

...but Katrina assured me that this was a bad idea.  We pondered other names, eventually falling into several that mostly centered around Star Trek characters.  Why?  I have no clue.  The two finalist names were "Spock" and "JeanLuc".  I settled on the latter.

The actual meeting was quick.  Katrina's friend brought out a small carrier with two identical and sister...who needed to be adopted.  Not being very confident in my ability to take care of one cat, let alone two, I passed on the opportunity to cat-parent twins.  Of the two kittens, I picked the one in the back, who turned out to be a boy.  He seemed to need me. That also helped make the whole JeanLuc thing work.  That day was November 27, 2010.

This was one of the smarter decisions I've made in my life.  Up until then, I hadn't realized how utterly horrible it was coming home to nothing.  Going through a separation and divorce, I went from a loud house to an eerily quiet apartment.  Starting on November 27, 2010, I had someone to come home to.  Yes, every workday JeanLuc would see me off in morning and be waiting at the front a dog...when I came home.  He was someone who, on the surface, needed me...but in reality, it was me who needed him.

My life took a turn for the better on November 27, 2010.

These days, JeanLuc is a little heavier (well, in fairness, so am I) and a bit less active (that makes two of us), but he still often meets me at the front door.  

Like me, his (kitty) family has expanded, with the addition of step-brothers Tiger and Rambo.  Life now if a bit less dramatic and more predictable for both of us.  Here's to many more years together.  

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Lessons in Thanks

I normally don't like the idea of eating in a restaurant on Thanksgiving.  Why?  Well, I guess part of it has to do with the fact that I don't want anyone having to work on Thanksgiving, especially when it comes to serving someone like me.  It just doesn't seem right, as everyone should be able to enjoy the holiday with their families.  This year though, as a result of some changed circumstances, I actually did eat Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant, and, well, it was a great experience.

Part of the story here goes back a few years to that period when I was going through a divorce.  One bit of well-intentioned advice I received was basically that I should require my daughters to have Thanksgiving dinner with me.  That one was tough.  That whole first holiday season was difficult, truth be told.  I always hated the drill of having to run between houses on holidays, and the last thing I wanted to do was to subject my own children to that sort of thing.  A lesson of sorts was learned from that Thanksgiving, namely that giving thanks can't be forced.  Since then, I've tried to balance holidays like Thanksgiving such that I can see my daughters, with minimal stress to them, without stressing myself.  These days, my daughters spend Thanksgiving with their mother and family, and I typically see them in the evening or on the next day.  That's the plan this year, by the way.

Moving forward, I've tried to create new traditions.  Well, that's incorrect, as I've basically come to join my wife's family traditions, which usually means eating Thanksgiving dinner in Philadelphia.  This year was a bit different though, as most of her immediate family was traveling over the holiday.  What we ended up doing was finding a restaurant in southcentral Pennsylvania, where we joined my wife's remaining state-side sibling (plus husband and one daughter), and the aunt of my two stepsons.

(THIS place)

It turned out to be a great decision, for the official record.  It was a nice day for a drive to Annville.  The food was great.  Our server was terrific, and we left her a very generous tip.  It was also nice not having to clean anything up.  Yes, in a perfect world it would always be nice to have Thanksgiving dinner at home, but I don't feel bad about our choice this year.

The larger lesson here harkens back to what I noted previously, namely some sense of absolutes ("you must insist that your daughters...", "you should never..."), no matter how well-intentioned, aren't necessarily helpful.  In fact, the world...and our collective mental health...can do with fewer absolutes.  Save those for the things for when they are an absolute necessity.  For everything else, well, it's always good to keep an open, less rigid mind about things.

Lastly, this is still (with about an hour to go as I type this) Thanksgiving, so it's wholly appropriate that I note how very much I have to be thankful for in this life.  Compared to most, I have been incredibly blessed, many times over.  These blessings are so abundant that, in fact, they are far too easy to take for granted.  I need to work on keeping that perspective, and like most important things in life, that will continue to be more of a journey than a destination.

* * * * * *

A special note of thanks:  More people actually read these postings that I want to admit to, and for that, well, I am very grateful.  It's nice to know that I sometimes write things that others find worth reading.  It's an even better thought that sometimes I may write something that gives another pause, that may leave someone saying "wow, I feel that way too" or momentarily takes someone out of their day.  While I'd still write this stuff if no one actually read it, I'm very thankful that some actually do.     

Sunday, November 19, 2017

How Do You Spell Despair? C-A-S-I-N-O

Once a year for the past several years in and around November 20th(1) my wife and I venture forth from our home to that shiny beacon between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre knows as the Mohegan Sun Pocono Casino.  This year was no different, and jaunt is mainly to get a good meal and walk around.  That's the plan.  Oh, and we waste about $20 in the slot machines, which for me consists of the following:

  • Insert money
  • Randomly push buttons
  • Lose money
  • Repeat

  • I genuinely do not know how to play a slot machine.  I really, truly don't.  You could sit me down side-by-side at a slot machine with a chimpanzee and we would pretty much be doing the exact same thing.  Now, this isn't a lacking on my part of the mental fire-power required to understand how to play these devices; spend any time in a casino and observe who actually does play slot machines and my point will be made.  No, this is what a complete lack of interest in gambling looks like.  I feel the same way about lottery tickets too, for the record.

    So why do it?

    It's kind of like that once or twice a year drink of alcohol I have...maybe it just serves to remind me that I don't like gambling, or drinking (alcohol) for that matter.

    Anyway, for me, the thought of the casino is always much better than the actuality of the casino.  I mean no disrespect, by the way, to the operators of the Mohegan Sun Pocono Casino.  By all accounts and my personal observations, it's a clean(2), secure, friendly, and well-run operation.  It's just that I don't understand the underlying attraction, especially when you consider that this is a 24/7 operation.  What's more, there's just sometimes this sense of despair when you are at the casino.  I see these folks sitting alone at a slot machine, with a vacant expression of their face as they purposefully work the slot machine buttons(3).  I want to find a middle-aged lady who is sitting there alone and ask her "is that fun?".  Maybe it is fun.  Then again, people who play games of chance at any casino lose far more money than they ever win, which to me seems like the anthesis of fun.  

    Wratcheting this up a bit, remember that this is a 24/7 operation.  Yes, there are people gambling there at 3am in the morning.  I want to go, just one time, to the casino at 3am in the morning just to see this for myself, to prove that such a thing isn't just an academic construct or urban myth.

    One thing the casino is?  It's alive.  It's bright.  It's blinking.  It's a kind of modern glitzy.  Maybe for some folks, well, that's what the casino does for them: It's a place that's alive, and maybe that's something they really need.  Just writing that thought makes me think of despair though.  

    A final thought:  Casinos in Pennsylvania have a privilege that they...and only they...enjoy, namely that indoor smoking is allowed.  Within 10 seconds of entering the building...more than a hundred feet from the gambling floor...I can smell the tobacco smoke.  After about an hour and a half, I feel myself starting to get a horrible headache from it.  I wonder just how the workers there tolerate that sort of thing, well at least the workers that don't smoke.  That previous statement is a bit of a contradiction by the way, because if you work at the casino, even if you don't smoke, you are actually smoking.  The air is that bad.  That must be one heck of a waiver they must sign upon the start of employment.  

    (1) Why November 20th?  Well, it's something of a second anniversary, of sorts.
    (2) "Clean", as long as you don't consider the air.
    (3) Purposefully, unlike me.

    Sunday, November 12, 2017

    Zen and the Art of Managing Photos

    One of the things in life that I find both calming and satisfying is organizing things.  That may sound odd, but I think it feeds into the fact that what I've spent most of my professional life doing doesn't always deliver quick and tangible results.  Taking a pile of something disorganized and turning it into something that's useful and makes sense?  Infinitely satisfying.  And so it is this weekend that my major project was to re-organize my 29 gigabytes of photographs.

    I had all of my photos in a folder on my desktop computer (backed up monthly onto a Western Digital 1 terabyte portable hard drive), but the organizational system left a lot to be desired.  In fact, I had trouble finding things and ended up not filing a ton of pictures.  Now, after about 4 hours of work, everything makes sense, and the organizational rules I put in place will make it easier to add more photographs in the future.  I was also able to eliminate a few hundred duplicate photos in the process.

    Granted, the above isn't all the exciting to anyone but me.

    The impetus for the above re-organization?  Probably threefold actually:

    1. Not having my old photos well organized actually discouraged me from taking more pictures.  
    2. I always enjoy looking at old photographs (not of me) anyway.  
    3. I've been given some additional photographs of my father, so it made sense clean things up a bit.  

    (Dad, late 40's I think; courtesy of my half-sister Theresa)

    There is a fourth reason as well:  I'm trying to be more purposeful with my non-working time.  That sounds like a Harvard phrase for "less lazy", but it's actually not.  I feel as if I am missing opportunities in life sometimes.  Yes, we all need "down time", but I'm not at my best when I feel as if I lack a direction or purpose.  I need to have something to accomplish.  Thinking back over 2017, I was at my best when I had graduate school (which was also maddening on many, many levels) work.  At my worst?  I'd have to say that was when I would sit in this office, just looking at a computer screen, mostly trying to avoid grieving over the loss of a 28-year-old job and 51-year-old brother.  A failed strategy, and while I don't claim that organizing photographs is a cure, I think it's part of a larger acknowledgment of sorts.

    (My Penn State college ID, 1982)

    So yes, in a way of sorts there is a connection between grief and old photographs:  I sometimes find both equally embarrassing, but hiding either makes little sense.

    Sunday, November 5, 2017


    Two photos, two weddings, 23 years apart.

    Hardly the Corleone family, I give you that much.  But if we were the Corleone family, well, I'd definitely be Michael.

    I've been thinking about family quite a bit lately.  In fact, I may be thinking about family even more in the weeks to come.  I have some work to do in that regard.

    Anyway, I was talking to my older brother the other day about family stuff, and while we're only 15 months apart, his memory for days long since past is far better than mine.  Astoundingly better, in point of fact.  That's both a conundrum and a shame.  The conundrum(1) part?  Given that there isn't that much difference in our ages, just why in the heck can't I remember as much as he does?  It's seriously surreal.  The shame part?  There's just a lot that I've missed...including people and places.  It's not as if I have vague memories; in fact, I basically have virtually none.  It's as if I was born being 5 years old (and even then I don't remember all that much).  

    (Back to when I apparently wasn't busy remembering in any things)

    Some recent feedback centers around the notion that I may(2) be guilty of "intellectualizing" all too often.  I'm still pondering that one in general, but when it comes to how I've approached things like my family, especially as it relates to my siblings, well, it's tough commentary to refute.  Maybe it all goes back to the notion that I was raised in what amounted to Scranton Campus of the Vulcan Science Academy(3)...without Vulcans and Science...but with lots of yelling at young men for aiming at, but serially missing, the toilet.  

    With apologies for the overt Star Trek references.

    (1)  I'll be honest:  I really like the word conundrum, so using it twice in this posting is kind of neat.  Conundrum (make that 3 times), as a word in the English language, isn't used nearly enough, in spite of the many conundrums (make that 4 times) we face in the United States today.
    (2)  An easy one:  The term "may" is me being overly kind in this context.
    (3)  Translation:  Growing up, there wasn't much tolerance for the expression of emotions.  Basically, my mother had two emotions:  Pissed Off and (Not) Pissed Off.  The boys?  We were just allowed one.