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Sunday, January 28, 2018

West Pittston Dodges Ice Dam(n)

A few photographs from the recent ice dam (or is that "ice, damn"...English is a such an imprecise language) during the week of January 22nd, 2018.

An ice dam formed on the Susquehanna River, just south of West Pittston, Pennsylvania.  Actually, the river had been full of ice for a few weeks.

January 14th, looking south.

As an area that is prone to flooding, there were much to be worried about as the water level rose on Wednesday.

Water forced the closing of the Water Street bridge.

We bought our home in 2013, on something of a haste basis, as I was about to become homeless due to the sale of my prior dwelling.  That's a different story for a different day (that I've probably already told on the blog, somewhere), but one of the things we made certain to do was make sure our proposed new home was out of the flood zone.  The zoning officer told Ms. Rivers and me that if our house were to flood, it would be "the end of days".  We took him at his word; the prior owners confirmed for us that the house was completely dry during the massive flood of 2011.

Getting back to Wednesday, as the evening wore on, the Borough of West Pittston issued a mandatory evacuation for the following areas:

Map courtesy of the Borough of West Pittston, via the Citizen's Voice.

Fortunately, around 11:30pm or so on Wednesday, the ice dam broke and water levels began to recede.  By Thursday morning the mandatory evacuation has been canceled and the clean-up began.  

What was left along the banks of the Susquehanna River can best be described as a boulder field.

It's likely the boulder field will be here well into May, barring a very warm rest of the Winter/early Spring.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Mrs Golden, Librarian

Back in the 70's, I attended James Madison Elementary School in Scranton.  I don't remember many of my teachers from way back then, but I do remember Mrs. Golden.  She was the librarian of the school, and she happened to notice that young Steve kept reading the same old book over and over again.  The book, by the way, was about space exploration.

Fast forward a few years and James Madison Elementary School was turning into East Scranton Intermediate School.  It seems that the much older intermediate school kids apparently didn't have much need for old books about space exploration, so the library was being prepared for "bigger kid" customers.  Just as the school year...the last for James Madison Elementary School...was about to end, I was called down to the library by Mrs. Golden.  She presented me with that old book about space exploration.  My love affair with books has continued ever since.

(My home office...just a few of my many books)
I mention this story because the Scranton School Board, in its infinite wisdom, believes that librarians aren't important.  I beg to differ.  I've written about the incredible ineptitude of the Scranton School Board before, so there's no sense repeating myself.  What I will offer is this:  The notion that every discretionary thing that could be cut from the Scranton School District's budget BEFORE coming to this point where librarians are let go is falsehood of epic proportions.  Simply put, they went after librarians because, among other things, they lack the foresight and guts to make significant cuts in sports programs (which, unlike the library, only serve a very small portion of students) and other things, such as a bloated administrative payroll.

I'll leave you something my daughter Katrina wrote and posted on Facebook.  #ProudDad

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” -Ray Bradbury
When a school district decides that funding sports programs, inflated salaries for upper administration, and hiring friends for kick-backs takes precedence over libraries and fostering a love of reading, there is something incredibly wrong.
As a teacher, I am terrified that a district could and would make a decision that is so detrimental to all parties involved.
As a former resident of Scranton, I am ashamed that my city would allow for this to happen. I know Scranton is not perfect, but I always thought (or hoped) that in the end, my home would have the integrity and decency to do the right thing.
As a product of the Scranton School District, I am saddened that thousands of students will not be given the basic educational opportunities that, in the United States of America, should be a damn RIGHT.
And finally, as the daughter of a school librarian in the Scranton School District, I am absolutely heartbroken.
I have witnessed my mother dedicate her life to the students of the SSD. She has given of herself tirelessly and selflessly in the form of time, money, resources, passion, and love. Hell, I grew up believing that it was normal for teachers to purchase Halloween costumes for the students whose parents couldn’t afford them because that’s just the kind of person my mother is. As a librarian she has increased her school’s collection of books so that students of all abilities and interests can love reading. She has single-handedly executed fundraisers to get new books. She’s worked with classes to create their own stories and then had them bound into hardcover books for each student. She’s created a school newspaper so students can experience the thrill the importance of reading and writing. My mother has brought in guest speakers, hosted a summer program so students could acquire books over the break, and created reading incentives that fostered a love of reading in hundreds of students.
If you think that I am passionate about teaching and my students, please understand that I am only a fraction of the educator that my mother is and know my desire to help students is fueled by the impact I have seen my mother have on everyone she has ever taught.
As a middle schooler, I watched my mother fight for years to acquire a permanent position within the SSD due to the corrupt hiring practices where friends and family are given preference over the most qualified educators. Now, after 16.75 years of full-time employment with the district, and 3.25 years from retirement, my mother received notice that her position as school librarian is being eliminated.
To say that the Scranton School District is making a horrible mistake is an understatement. The fact that the district ended up in this situation is negligence at best— but the decision to solve a budget crisis in this way is criminal.
Ultimately, the amazing educators who are being laid off will persevere. However, it is the students of the City of Scranton who will be damaged most by this decision. These students are the individuals who will grow up to decide the future of the city, our nation, and our world, but the Scranton School Board has decided that our students are not worth the investment. The school board has decided that maintaining the status quo of corrupt politics is more important than providing the youth of Scranton with a well-rounded education.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Revelation (of a sort)

In-between times career-wise(1) are always a good opportunity for reflection.  Well, truth be told, any time for me is a good time for reflection.  Heck, my ideal job...if I could get paid to do it...would just be reflecting on things, basically all the time.  Alas, I'm stuck in the amateur, part-time reflection business, gratis no less.  Anyway, as I've been reflecting on many things lately, I've had something of a revelation.  Others may not be impressed with it, but I (sort of) am, and it's my $10/year domain, so here goes.

The Feeling...
All throughout my 30 (or so) years of professional life, I've had a consistent, persistent feeling, maybe best described as an "intensity" at work.  I just don't relax.  When I'm at work, I just have this kind of frenetic state inside my head, all the time, with almost no exceptions.  I've always had it, no matter what I was doing, from working with disabled children/adults through what I do now for a living.  It's as if my body is a Toyota Yaris, but with a 400 cubic inch Chrysler V8 under the hood(2).   I've never really understood this all that well, in spite of the fact that, at this stage of my career, I think I have a fairly accurate self-assessment and I'm pretty good at coaching (others).  Then again, we all know that doctors aren't always all that good at diagnosing themselves.

I also know that I'm pretty good at hiding the above.  Maybe that, in and of itself, is part of the problem.

The Impact...
To the above, well, so what?  A perfectly valid question.  Everyone has "the feels"(3), so what makes what's running in my head so different?  Well, I'd like to blame this on my inability (so far...well maybe never) to make it to CEO, but that's simply ridiculous.  I do know though that I think some of the health issues I've faced, particularly since my mid-40's are at least in part an outcome of my mind running at high idle at work for so very long.  I do also think that this, in part, hasn't always helped my career either.  To the latter, why?  I think I mentally burn-out after so long.  Not understanding this whole thing also contributes to negative feelings I might have in particular situations.  Just as great physical exertion can lead to physical pain, I think you get a similar kind of situation when it comes to your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

The Revelation...
I think that inside of my head there is this combination of guilt and a desire to try to fit into American business culture(4).  Simply put, the intensity is the outcome of my feeling a need to be "on" all the time at work, with "on" specifically referring in part to significant inter-personal interactions.

The guilt part may seem odd, but I genuinely feel bad if I don't deliver enough value for what my employer pays.  Regardless of the job or the employer.  They pay me, and I need to give them something back in return.  All the time.  I'm left with constantly thinking about whether or not I am actually earning my compensation.  I'll note that is not an effective strategy for negotiating a higher rate of pay, for the record.

American business culture values a few things that I struggle with, including extraversion(5)...with its premium of social interactions...and risk-taking.  I can act like an extrovert, but it takes a toll on me.  The need to be more outgoing sometimes causes me to me over-compensation in many different ways. For example, I go above and beyond in terms of being available for others; I will literally drop what I am doing to help someone else.  I am also exceedingly uncomfortable in many situations when I have to be out-going, so much so that there is a kind of running chorus of critique in my head: 

How did that sound?  
Was I too outgoing?  
Did I talk too much?  
I think I need to shut up now.

I'm also naturally risk-averse, which is understandable, given an upbringing where there was a premium placed on not rocking the apple cart.

Where I end up is with one part of me pushing ahead to be more outgoing, while another part of me pulling back because in part it knows how uncomfortable some of this ends up being for me.  The latter is the voice in my head that more or less says "well that was uncomfortable" after almost every social interaction.

A great example of the above plays out when the subject of working from home is discussed.  Simply put, I personally(6) don't like it.  Why?  Let me count the ways:
  • If I work from home, I feel like I'll begin having these frenetic thoughts here too.  My calm place, my own home fortress of solitude, will be forever contaminated.
  • I would feel guilty that I'm somehow taking advantage of something, somehow.
  • I'm uncomfortable with social interactions, yet I know that the challenge of having them isn't a bad thing.  It would feel somehow mentally lazy to not have to do this thing that pushes me.      
In an odd sort of way, I actually envy people who can successfully work from home.

The Outcome...
So where does all of this lead?  Am I to now somehow channel the frenetic energy noted above towards a drive to become some kind of senior executive of something or other?  In a word, "no".  That's not what this...and about.  That's never what this has ever been about.  This whole mess, this whole compartmentalized revelation, if you want to call it that, isn't nearly so grand; it's simply about trying to be a better person during working hours by being more comfortable in my own skin.  I want to be able to breathe better in a figurative, and sometimes literal, sense.

Like most revelations, it's interesting to note that none of the parts here are really all that new to me.  I'm relatively well versed in, for example, MBTI theory(7). and I've read quite a bit of Eckart Tolle(8).  I'm also comfortable engaging in self-reflection (obviously).  No, what's new is the combination of these various parts, and maybe some element of timing that so far escapes my understanding.  Maybe this is all a natural part of the aging process...the"wisdom" of old age.  Maybe this is all just a mental blip of sorts.  I'm just not sure.

What's next? 
Decidedly low tech here in the sense that I'm really just aiming to understand with all of this "stuff".  I'm hoping that "understand" leads to a bit more peace within my own headspace.  Part of me thinks that all of this is a process and that by the time I'm ready to retire I'll have it all figured out.  How ironic would that end up being?  Mostly though, maybe the end product of all this self-indulgence is that I'll simply be able to cut myself a bit more slack.  A bit anti-climatic, I give you that much.  Then again, sometimes the most important things in life aren't grand in nature, but rather are the simple truths that we can somehow remind ourselves exist just as it seems that the world is getting to be a bit too much to swallow.

(from THIS page)

* * * * * *

(1) Not to be read into all that much; suffice to say my current job is likely evolving.
(2) As what I had in my college car, a 1974 Chrysler Newport.

(3) Common younger folk speak.
(4) I am not fond of references to "business culture", mostly because I think the term is misunderstood and over-used.  For purposes of this reflection, "culture" refers to a set of unwritten rules associated with working in an organization.  
(5) For a good definition of extraversion follow THIS link.
(6) The key word here is PERSONALLY.  I have absolutely no problem with others working from home.  Heck, if someone does and it works for them, well that's simply excellent.  I just can't get it work for me.
(7) Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; more information HERE.
(8) Being present in the moment.  Far easier said than done.

Monday, January 15, 2018

J. Edgar Hoover's "Anonymous" Letter to Dr. King

There's been a lot of talk about "government persecution" of Christians from some quarters in the United States. This is mostly voiced by folks who would have you believe that the government's failure to codify their specific religious dogma into the written law of the land, for all to follow (regardless of religious...or non-religious...affiliation), somehow constitutes an act of persecution. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a good time to remind us what just a real government persecution looks like, in the starkest of terms. You can read more about the letter noted below HERE.

(Image from the PostSecret Facebook Page)

There are quite a few of quotes floating around social media today from Dr. King, which is truly fitting. All of them (and this letter) serve to remind us that sometimes there is a high price to be paid for doing what is right. Sadly, in the case of Dr. King, the letter noted above wasn't even the highest price to be paid.

For the record, I've read much of what has been negatively written about Dr. King (basically the fodder for the letter), and I won't dignify any of it by reference. What I will say this: Judge the man by what he said, what he represented, and what he accomplished. The fact that he made powerful enemies speaks volumes, both about his work and tragic history of racism in the United States.

"Free at least, they took your life, but they could not take your pride".

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Happy Birthday Brother

A personal indulgence, of sorts:  Today is my (older) brother's 55th birthday.  That's a mighty large number of orbits around the sun, and I'm only a year and a few months behind him.  It wasn't always the greatest growing up, but heck, we made it anyway.

(Looks aside, two brothers - Rich & Steve)

Due to an unfortunate series of events that have been long forgotten, we were in the same grades for most of our primary and secondary educational experiences.  That's both a blessing and a curse, but yet all these years we still talk to each other, rather frequently I'll add.  It's also important, given that the world's supply of Albert brothers was been diminished over the past year or so.

Here's to a few more orbits brother.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fringe County Commissioner Objects to Fringe Festival

Point of reference HERE.

People on the extreme ends of the political they far right or left...typically (at least in my experience) have no sense for the ironic. 

Seriously, how many unwashed, bun-headed hipsters gladly complain about the nebulous "system" via Tweeting on their practically-made-by-Chinese-prisoners(1) iPhones, all while financially contributing to one of the largest corporations in the world?

On the other end of the political and social spectrum, Lackawanna County has a commissioner who holds more than a few fringe views, yet objects to something called the "Fringe Festival".  Doubly ironic?  The fact that his same commissioner objects to funding the Fringe Festival in part because of it's "R-Rated shows", but yet she is apparently is fine with R-rated content from President Trump?  Case in point THIS LINK (Warning:  Suggestive, but censored, content). 

Now Commissioner Cummings actually does, all be it accidentally, touch on a larger, less irony-fueled series of issues:  Should the government be funding the arts at all?  Just what constitutes "art" anyway?  I'm actually on the fence about government funding the arts.  Yes, I do see the benefit that art and arts education brings to society at large.  I also understand though that government resources for such things are limited, and decisions about what can get funding...and what can't...are sometimes inherently subjective(2) in nature.  What's more, should an artist actually want a government, any government for that matter, involved in his/her artistic expression on any level?  It's a slippery slope, to be sure.

Here's to Lackawanna County's fringe commissioner having a relatively short tenure.

(1) See Foxconn.
(2) Again, just what constitutes art anyway?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

January 5th, 1 Year Later

I told myself that I wouldn't be one of "those people" who seem to perpetually be in mourning.  I'm hoping to keep that promise, if for no other reason than the fact that I don't think I've really gotten to the actual "mourning" stage.  Yet.  Maybe not ever.  I refer to my younger brother Chris.

I will say, at the risk of sounding really weird(1), I've actually sort of experienced him in a few dreams over the past year. Granted, my dreams(2) play out like something out of a bad Dr. Hunter S. Thompson ether-binge lubricated acid trip.  Seriously, they really do, but with my brother Chris sometimes playing a kind of supporting role.  These dreams are never, as I can recall, about him by the way; he just sort of appears in them.  I'm told that there is a deeper meaning to these events, but I've yet to actually figure out that part.  Again, maybe not ever.

As a side note, I don't ever recall ever having a dream in past where one of my brothers was a participant.  It's a heck of a way to get a part in some surreal show playing in my slumber-bound subconsciousness.

Anyway, and to the point, it was a year ago on January 5th that I found my brother in his home.  We don't know the actual date he passed, other than it had likely been a day or three beforehand.  The fact that his home was a balmy 20 or so degrees when I found him complicated matters in that regard.  What I do know, and what I've noted before, is that while no one wants to be the one who actually finds a deceased family member, I continue to be grateful that it was me, and not one of my other brothers, Chris' wife, his daughter or really anyone else.  Chris, I think, always appreciated that I seemed to have my "stuff" together(3), so maybe this was some kind of karmic duty I was performing.

So what to make of this?  I don't really know.  For me, the process of unpacking emotional baggage is a long one, filled with procrastination. Part of me simply doesn't want to unpack this emotional baggage, in part because it's very, very difficult.  While I'm not one to back down from something simply because it's hard, I'm also not one for intentionally sticking a figurative icepick in my brain either.  "Hard", it seems, is a relative term.  Maybe, and more honestly, I'm still having difficulty processing the fact that I lost my brother, someone I genuinely was counting on to be there when we got older...someone who, as I've noted before...would be able to help me understand our common upbringing, hopefully working to make sense of stuff that, as kids, we really were not equipped to understand.

For the record, I'm not sure about an afterlife, but if there is one, he'll be there waiting for me one day (long into the future, if I have anything to say about it), smiling, ready with a midget joke.

(Not quite the Corleone Brothers...Chris, Joe, Steve & Rich)

My brother was very fond of The Doors, so in my best Casey Kasem imitation, "here is the long-distance dedication".

(1) But let's face it:  If you read this stuff long enough, you've already come to the conclusion that I really am weird anyway.  I'm okay with that, for the official record.
(2) Maybe like others?  I don't I only experience my own anyway.
(3) Mostly theatrics, I will note.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018: Predictions & Resolutions

Closer to Carnac the Magnificant(1) than Nostradamus, but never the less here are a few predictions for 2018.

Kmart/Sears declares bankruptcy.
Been to a busy Kmart?  Me neither.  Chaulk this one up to WallyWorld and just really, really bad decision making.  Sears is already fire-selling its brands in an attempt to stave off the inevitable.

The Scranton School District is Taken Over by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Local leadership lacks the talent to dig a district out of the hole that has been generations in the making.  I'll note that, for the record, current plans for fiscal solvency don't include any drastic changes to high school sports or wholesale staffing reductions in administrative ranks.  That tells you a lot about political will...or lack therein.

By the way, if you're waiting for the Harvard MBA to save the day, well, get used to waiting.

I'll note also that not a single penny will be recovered from the Scranton School District's twice renewed no-bid busing contractor.  Said local businessman continues to laugh all the way to the bank, as the public blusters and school board members cower.  It's not even a fair fight.

Donald Trump is still President.
It will be discovered that the President is knee-deep in debt to sketchy lenders, some of whom are closely connected to Russian oligarchs and mobsters.  He'll also continue with his Jr. High inspired tweeting.  None of this though will be enough to inspire a "political power before country" Republican Congress to actually do anything about this national embarrassment.  Secretly most Republicans will wish he'd just resign; publically they'll all just hide.

Democrats will not fare much better, deciding to passively wait for a Trump implosion that will never occur.  In typical Democratic Party fashion, they'll continue to be their own worst enemy, wagging fingers at about a third of the national electorate that they simply don't (choose to) understand.

Nothing Changes in North Korea.
Nothing will change, period.  The Chinese seem to despise the Kim regime, but they also despise the thought of a million Korean refugees crossing the border if sanctions were to be actually and fully enforced.  The President's Russian friends will continue to violate sanctions as well.

Apple's iPhone X is a bust (literally).
All those Christmas gifts will be out in the real world, subject real word things like being dropped.  See HERE.  Undeterred, Apple simply pushes out yet a new iDevice that costs even more, with legions of bun-headed buyers with short attention spans eagerly awaiting.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Patrick "Cheese" O'Malley becomes a Republican (again).
In fact, he already is a de-facto Republican, given his "alliance" with fellow Tea Party commissioner Laureen Cummings.  Now the political party switcheroo may not actually happen, but it says a lot (of not so good things) about local Democratic party leadership that this guy is even allowed to call himself a Democrat.

* * * * * *

My track record for predictions isn't so great, but hopefully, I'll have better luck with my 2018 resolutions.

My Physical Health
Eating - Be more mindful when it comes to eating.  When it's time to eat, I will ask myself two questions:  Am I truly hungry?  Is what I am eating truly good for my body and mind?
Activity - Get back to engaging in 30 minutes of dedicated physical activity, no less than 5 times per week.
My Mental Health
Seek Peace with Loss.
Limit Social Media Time.

Learning & Career
Complete My Master's Degree - For real, this time I mean it.  I just need to pass a SHRM exam.
Career - Actively manage my career through networking and finding opportunities to grow as a professional.
Learn to Play the Bass Guitar - I'll find a teacher and take some lessons, as soon as I pass my SHRM exam.  My goal is to be able to play "Old Stewball"(2) with my in-laws one day.

Treasure the Relationship I have with My Wife(3) - It's far too easy to take something for granted, something for which I have no intention ever of doing.
Cultivate Friendships - I'm not always the best friend I can possibly be, having found social connections difficult to manage over the course of my 50-some year life.  Part of this is social awkwardness, part of this (lack of) skill, part of this is prioritization.

(1) Old Johnny Carson bit; see HERE.
(2) Old folk song; see HERE.
(3) July 3, 2015 - The Circle Is Now Complete.