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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Dual Posting: Notes for After Our Passing

What follows is a joint post by Ms. Rivers a.k.a. Chris a.k.a. Mom and Steve a.k.a. Dad.  After watching numerous YouTube videos of the Long Island Medium (Theresa Caputo) and developing a slightly unhealthy fascination with her spiritual readings, Ms. Rivers wants to ensure our wishes are known about a future time after one or both of us have died.  (On a side note, Ms. Rivers believes that our souls continue to an after-life, while Steve sees no reason to believe this in the absence of any evidence or proof.*)

Ok, here we go; please note, no firm decisions have been made about our final arrangements.  Should either of us pre-decease each other and once we have both passed, we do not want anyone including our children to do the following:
  • Place cremated remains in a cigar box until a decision can be reached about their permanent location, then lose the cigar box when moving.  [Steve here:  If you do this, I will haunt you, even if there isn't an afterlife.  I absolutely hate cigars!]
  • Place ashes in an urn/vase and keep it on the mantel (in lieu of burial).  Or strap it into the passenger side of a vehicle to keep the driver "company" on outings.  
  • Divide up ashes and place them in vessels as keepsakes for multiple family members.  In particular, do not fill up glass Christmas ornaments with ashes so that we can literally participate in each holiday season as decorations on your Christmas tree.
  • Scatter ashes outdoors (especially on a windy day!) in a body of water, where it's likely they would immediately become lunch for birds, fish, and other land-dwelling things.
  • Bury us in a cemetery without trees.  Or rabbits.  We want rabbits and other assorted non-human critters to frolic on top of our graves.
  • Have some kind of enormous, gaudy, "I want attention" headstone.  Neither one of us like show-offs, be it in this life or the next.
  • Putting anything plastic (flowers, crosses, etc.) on our graves.  We want to be buried in a cemetery, not a Dollar General.  
  • Unless you plan on taking care of them, no live flowers either.  But if you do put live flowers on our grave and you were to take care of them, then I [Steve] would like Marigolds, as long as they are the multi-colored ones.  But not the really big poofy yellow or orange ones. 

Lastly, and most importantly, don't be sad when you think about us.  Life is measured in countless ways, none the least of which is in the amount of love one gives.  In our case, we've both been blessed to have found each other and to have children that will help us live on in spirit, always.

* * * * * *

(*) Slight rebuttal from Steve:  It's not that don't believe (in an afterlife), as that would be far too easy, and by and large I've never been one to do things the easy way anyhow.  Rather, it's more like "I want to believe" and "if the universe would just churn up some evidence, well, all the better".

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Thank You

Thank you one and all for the birthday wishes yesterday.  Every expression made me smile, which if you know me you realize that just isn't anatomically my natural state.

Yesterday was something of a milestone birthday by the way.  It's achieving one of those ages where I can see the world being different in front of me, all be it a world that is still many years away.  In honor of milestones and such, here are a few random thoughts about life that I've learned while getting older.

The Grass Is Never Greener.
I know, I've said this before, but with each birthday this thought becomes even truer:  The grass is never greener on the other side.  For the most part, we are all equally dysfunctional.  Everyone...every struggling in some way.  Be it substance abuse, mental health issues, physical health issues or something else.  The only difference between all of us is the fact that some are better at hiding the struggle than others.

You Become What You Surround Yourself With.
This is what our parents tried to warn us about we hung around with the "bad kids".  I never had that problem myself growing up, but my late brother Chris did; our mother would say that "if there was one bad kid in the room, Chris would find him and make him is a best friend".  Where I've seen this play out in my own life is when I tolerate consistent and institutional negativity around me.  Granted that we are all negative sometimes, as life is far from sunshine, kittens, and rainbows.   However, it's important to not let yourself be continuously immersed in negative stuff.  Literally, the clouds block out the sunlight.

Always Sign Your (Real) Name.
I am proud of the fact that I own my opinions.  Whether it's here or responding via comments to some news story, I don't hide behind pseudonyms.  I really think the world would be a better place without anonymous Internet keyboard commanders.

The Greatest Battles Are Fought Within.
I've found...make that "am continuously being reminded that"...the vast majority of the time in my life, it's not the situation that's problematic, it's my reaction to the situation.

Always Assume Positive Intent.
Everyone is born innocent; it's life and choices that turn us into who we are and what we become.  That noted, always assume positive intent.  Even the worst of us has the potential to be and do good.  We all have a daily shot at redemption.  By assuming positive intent, we may just open the door for someone else to turn a corner, to give them a small chance to make a small change.  What's more, assuming positive intent is less about others anyway; it's more about who we are as a person and the choices we make.  Now, this doesn't mean that we ignore threats to our own (physical/mental) health, but it does mean that we should set the default switch positive.

Always Be Heading For The Light.
Trust George.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


What is Easter? 

For the kids among us, it's Easter baskets and more chocolate than likely anyone needs.

From my religious upbringing, I can certainly explain as well as any layperson (well, make that better than most laypersons) what the holiday represents.

None of that seems to work for me anymore.  Mind you, I do like chocolate, but quite frankly I need to eat less, not more.  Same goes for three-quarters of the other things I eat these days.  As for the theology of it all, well, I'm having a tough time the theology of most organized religions these days.  Strict adherence to rituals or literal interpretations of text written before there was even a printing press just don't seem to make sense to me.  Then we also have the manifest failure of organized religion on several fronts, well documented, it seems, on most news days.

Anyway, this isn't intended to disparage organized religion.  If anything, I truly do applaud anyone who has faith; if that comes from rituals, books or traditions, well, good for them.  Whatever works.

So, again, what is Easter?

Best I can figure these days, Easter is about resurrection; it's about coming out of the other side if you want to call it that, from a place where there didn't seem to be all that much hope.  That's an easy sentiment to write but a difficult sentiment to put into action.  Trust me, I know this for a fact.

I've been in need of a kind of Easter.  The specifics as to why aren't all that important.  What truly matters is that in some ways, it's been a bit of a difficult row to hoe over the past year or so.  I can't claim any kind of resurrection, but it does look like I am may be coming out on the other side of it all.  Of course, in the finest of Steve traditions, I haven't gotten what I wanted, but I do seem to have gotten what I needed.  Cryptic?  Damn straight it is.  Sometimes life is cryptic though:  We have some idea of what we think we need, but then the universe throws something else at us.  It's the kind of thing that David Foster Wallace once beautifully described as follows...

Here's to resurrections and truth and freedom.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Road Apples, #178

Dear News Outlets...You're not doing your collective jobs when, at any given time, half the content in one of your stories consists of copied Tweets.  I don't care what people think about a particular story.  I just want the story.  If I want to read tweets I will go to Twitter.  Please stop.

Culm Bank...I spent time recently wandering around an old culm bank.  If you don't know what a culm bank is, well, click HERE.  There's a longer posting in the works about my visit.  There is also a larger, cautionary tale in places such as this when we think about the natural gas extraction business happening throughout Pennsylvania.  More to come.

Work from Home...I don't like to work from home.  Well, I do sometimes work from the evenings and over the weekend...but making it part of the Monday to Friday routine isn't something I have done much of in the past.  This is mostly because I need a kind of buffer between me at work and me at home, and a long commute does that trick rather nicely.  Anyway, that's going to change, at least over the short-term.  I actually had a decent work from home day this past Friday, so I'm going to do it again over the next few Fridays.  We'll see what happens.

Game of Thrones...I have never watched the show.  Ditto for Breaking Bad.  And countless other things on television.  I put television shows into four categories:
1) Educational - Shows that I enjoy because I can learn something.
2) Mindless Fun - Shows that involve unwashed Alaskans (for the most part).
3) Offensive - Anything involving "Sister Wives", "Breeders", and "Real Housewives of _______".
4) Other - Everything else that I can't be bothered with (for the most part).

Game of Thrones is in the 4th category.

Scranton School District...Follow-up from THIS posting...I heard back from one SSD Director who said that the family relationship I referenced in the posting wasn't known or disclosed during the vetting process (or lack thereof ) for the newly appointed director.  Add that to the list of things that the SSD needs to do better.  Rumor has it that Silicon Valley has invented a cutting edge new piece of technology to help the governmental bodies identify potential conflicts of interest:  It's called a CHECKLIST.

Spring...I'll admit it:  I feel better in a lot of ways when Spring finally arrives.  Part of it is the fact that I just enjoy being outdoors.  As a kid, we spent a lot of time outdoors, all throughout the year.  Another part of this is the fact that I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with working in the yard.  The grass is too cut it...and there is an immediate improvement.  That kind of feedback is often times missing in my professional life.

Firefighter Under Investigation...There is a Scranton Firefighter under investigation for potential involvement in a recent multi-vehicle crash.  You can link to the story HERE.  I mention this because I was thinking the other morning about how we have to be very careful using the word "hero".  No one, in my estimation, is a hero by virtue of their occupation.  Not firefighters, not policemen not soldiers.  Someone is a hero because of what they actually do in a particular situation.  For example, a firefighter that risks his life to save a child in a burning building is a hero.  A firefighter than goes into a burning building as part of putting out a fire isn't a hero...he is trained to fight fires...that's what he does.  Anyway, The firefighter in this story shouldn't be held to a higher or lesser standard of conduct based on his occupation.  Judge him based on his actual conduct, not his day job.

Colonoscopy...Probably not the most pleasant of subjects, but what the heck, I'll go there anyway.  If you are over age 50 you should get a colonoscopy every 5 years.  If you have a family history of colon cancer you should have the procedure performed more frequently.  I started having the procedure done in my mid-40's due to some other issues, and now have three under my belt.  The test itself is a non-issue; the worst part is the IV insertion and the prep the day beforehand.  Those are but a minor inconvenience when you consider just what this test can do for you, as in it can save your life.  Seriously, talk to your doctor about this test.  You can learn more about the procedure at WebMD.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Scranton School District - "It's the expenses, stupid"

During Bill Clinton's first presidential run, one of his chief advisor (and dead-ringer for Skelator), James Carville, was famous for saying "the economy, stupid" as a way to keep the campaign focused on the issue(s) that matter the most.  I keep hearing that phrase in the back of my head whenever I read about the Scranton School District's (SSD) decades-long fiscal crisis.

By the way, it's less of a "fiscal" crisis than it is a crisis of ineptitude.

One of the things you read in the local press about the SSD's financial picture is the fact that the district is dramatically short-changed when it comes to state-provided funding.  That's actually true.  The reasons behind that are outside of my scope for this posting, but it's worth reading about if you're interested.  However, I think there is danger in focusing too much on the SSD's funding level. 

Now, should the state funding formula be changed? Sure, it should. But placing too much emphasis on the income side of the ledger is an enormous mistake. Ask anyone who ever had excessive credit card debt: Additional income sometimes just feeds additional excessive spending. 

Given the SSD's long history of horrible governance:
  1. Nepotism - Some things never change, even in the midst of a crisis.  A case in point is the fact that the most recently appointed SSD Director just happens to be the brother-in-law of the district's transportation director.  This would be the same person who, shockingly, also oversees the (twice no-bid) busing contract.  Why wasn't this family relationship disclosed during the selection process for the new director?  Board members should be on record as to whether or not they knew about the family connection prior to the appointment vote.  This is the same newly minted director who owed the City of Scranton over twenty thousand dollars in back taxes and garbage fees (citation HERE).  Why does this matter?  Simply put, the SSD has a long history of making appointments and hiring decisions based on political/familial expediency, not actual talent, which in turn permeates incompetence throughout the organization.
  2. Failed Fiduciary Responsibilities - The SSD has a horrible track record when it comes to creating and exercising reasonable fiscal (and other types of) controls.  Whether it's a twice enacted no-bid busing contract, poor information technology asset management or paying benefits to non-employee who just happened to fix select administration member's vehicles for free, the SSD has repeatedly violated its responsibility to prudently manage taxpayer resources (for more details, read THIS).  
  3. Inconsistent Labor Relations - The SSD and the Scranton Federation of Teachers (SFT) have an interesting relationship.  At times adversarial, for sure.  At times quid pro quo, as the SFT has known about the scourge of nepotism, but yet looked the other way when it knew that the best-qualified individuals were not always being hired.  There is also a history of the SFT endorsing grossly incompetent individuals for SSD director positions (see the above points).  The SFT has a bad habit of blaming the SSD administration only when it's convenient to do so and looking the other way the rest of the time.  As the old saying goes, "if you lay down with dogs, don't then complain about getting fleas".
...I have absolutely no doubt that more money would have either resulted in simply delaying the current crisis or perhaps spawning even worse decisions making.  Think about it:  Would the no-bid busing contract have been challenged if the SSD were flush with cash?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  What is certain though is that the SSD would be under far less scrutiny, which would be a very, very bad thing.

By all means, Pennsylvania's public school funding policy needs to change, but for Scranton any more funding needs to come only with significant oversight attached.