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Monday, September 14, 2020

From Russia, with Vitriol

I saw a graphic similar to this in one of my Facebook groups:


I believe that it was actually taken down after myself, and several others complained.  

So, why did I complain?

First, the group in question is about anthracite coal mining.  Not politics.  Not the NFL.  Not patriotism.  Not the president.  Not Joe Biden.  It is about, for me, a subject that I have had an interest in for most of my life.

(photo from the site of the former Hughestown Breaker)

Sadly, I am sure this kind of stuff creeps up in other groups as well.  

Second, there is actually zero.point.zero connection between NFL players and 9/11 first responders.  

The creator might as well said "Not one Russian Orthodox Priest ran into the WTC..." or "Not one member of the Trump family ran into the WTC..." or "Not one Turkey Breeder ran into the WTC...".  This is nothing more than stringing two thoughts that some people feel passionate about together simply for the purpose of inflaming tensions.  Nothing else.  

Third, this has all the hallmarks of being a part of the Russian campaign to just generally destabilize the United States ahead of the November 3rd general election.  

I will note that I find people who are preachy distasteful, but I'm going to do it myself anyway:  Don't fall for this nonsense, and when you do see it and call it out for the Russian garbage that it represents.  

You can greatly admire the first responders on 9/11 and find the "taking a knee" protests by NFL players inappropriate.  I do the former, but not the latter.  They aren't, however, even remotely connected.  The 9/11 first responders didn't rush into buildings because they were patriots...they did it because that was their job, and they are heroes for risking their lives as such.  Conversely, it's my opinion that NFL players who "take a knee" are not unpatriotic; heck, you can make the argument that protesting in order to make the United States a better place is an example of patriotism at work.  You can also disagree with me about the NFL players, but you can't disagree with the ridiculously disjointed nature of the graphic.

Regardless of who you support in the November election, no one is well served by playing into disinformation campaigns created by enemies of this nation. 

We should be smarter than this.


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

World Suicide Prevention Day - September 10th


After a certain age, you get the benefit of looking back at your life and you're able to see those points where events touched you down to your deepest core.  These are places where you mentally and emotionally have nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.  Thinking of my own life, there is no better example of this than having experienced people close to me attempt (and in one case succeeded* at) suicide.  At these points, well, life lays you bare.

I can't speak as someone who has attempted suicide myself.  That's just not part of who I am, regardless of what I've had to face in life.  I suppose that's a good thing, however, every now and then I do get thoughts of "well why me?", where I wonder why this gift (if you want to call it that) wasn't shared with some important people in my life.  It almost becomes hallow in a way, a form of survivor's guilt that while bad, is clearly better than death.  Put another way, it's as if I can intellectually understand why people attempt/commit suicide, but I can't feel why they do it.

None of the above is an attempt at requesting pity or creating a moral equivalency between the "here" of being impacted by suicide vs. the "there" of actually committing the act.  In point of fact, I get to write this posting but yet, for example, my brother isn't around to read it.  

All I can speak to now is what I've experienced and what I've tried to learn over the years.

Speaking of experience, there is nothing that can prepare you for that first call of "This is ____________ your ___________________ attempted to harm themself..." (or words to that effect).  Enough times and you become numb to it, which is its own special form of punishment, once the guilt at becoming numb begins to set in.  No one should ever treat an attempt at suicide as being anything less than the life-altering event it actually represents.

Experience noted, what have I learned over the years?  A few thoughts:

  • Life truly is precious.  It's just not possible to prospectively comprehend what it's like when someone leaves your life after taking their own.  There are no words that do it justice.  All that's left are old pictures, almost ghost-like memories, and the occasional vivid dream.
  • We are all unique.  Each of us deals with the drivers of suicide in different ways.  For some, those drivers don't have a high degree of power over our lives.  For others, they seem to be a constant voice from a dark corner offering a solution that, in hindsight, is actually searching for a suitable problem...a problem which, for all but the terminally ill (perhaps) doesn't actually exist.
  • It creates ripples.  Maybe a way to describe the impact that suicide has had on my life is to explain it as being something that created ripples.  These ripples have the staying power to last years; maybe until the end of my own life (from old age, hopefully).  Sometimes these ripples re-appear when I see or experience something that brings back a jarring memory or two.

Lastly, and at the risk of sounding a bit more preachy, I'll add this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Whether the "YOU" is someone experiencing suicidal thoughts or someone who has just such a person in their life, the biggest lie of suicide seems to be the idea that "no one can understand how I feel".  While that may be true on one level...no one can ever literally climb into another's head and experience their life from that perspective...it is patently false from another, namely that a 100% 1:1 connection on an emotional and experiential level is not required for successful mental health treatment and wellness.

So please, if you read this and know of someone struggling with significant mental health issues, try to help.  See below.  If you are struggling to deal with the aftermath of suicide, know that you're not alone and that there is help for you as well.    


Life is worth living.

* * * * * *

Resources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Grief Support for Loss Survivors

Left Behind After Suicide

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Real Warriors (Active & Inactive Duty Military)

Stand for the Silent (Youth & Young Adult)


* * * * * *

(*) "Succeed at suicide":  The irony is that the only successful suicide is the one that fails.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Scranton Times: Legalizing Marijuana Editorial

The Scranton Times posted an editorial on August 29th regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Pennsylvania.  You can read the editorial at the following link:

https://www.thetimes-tribune.com/opinion/editorial/at-minimum-debate-wolfs-pot-proposal/article_fa135465-3fbe-51c9-97b9-9bb2c3d7579e.html

If the link doesn't work/is behind a paywall, well don't worry, as you're actually not missing much.  Basically, the newspaper makes the point that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's proposal for the legalized recreational use of marijuana should be debated by the legislature.

What definitely can't you read on-line?  That would be my comment regarding the editorial because The Scranton Times would not publish it.  I'm not sure why; my best guess is that they are using some kind of AI to screen postings based on keywords, and I must have flipped the switch.  That facet of this story is more interesting from a process/technology perspective than anything else.  Part of me can almost envision the Asian technology services company selling the newspaper's leaders on this incredibly smart AI cloud-based comment screening software that would be "foolproof" and save them money.  Based on my comment, well, it may not be so foolproof after all.  In any event, that ball-o-thought is noted below.

* * * * * *

Two thoughts:

(1) Personally, I think using marijuana is pretty damn stupid unless you have glaucoma or your chemotherapy causes you to lose weight (and you actually need a case or three of the "munchies"). Again, just my opinion, but intentionally getting high is a sign of personal weakness and an inability to deal with the real world. I'll note though that I feel the same way about those who constantly get drunk, something for which NEPA has a well-earned reputation. Simply put, it seems to me that marijuana use probably isn't all that worse than drinking alcohol (and for the record, I don't do either).

(2) The editor(s) mention tax revenue when comparing to the legalization of marijuana to gambling, but they miss a central point: Gambling revenue was supposed to measurably reduce property taxes. Instead what actually happened was that gambling revenue more or less became a kind of slush fund that allowed politicians to sponsor local projects, etc. Granted that some of this work was needed, but gambling wasn't sold to the population as a way to fund parks...it was sold as a way to reduce taxes. I'm not going to touch the issue of property tax rebates, as while getting a rebate is great, in reality, it's just a cynical ploy for politicians to say that property taxes are being reduced when in fact they are not*.

* * * * * *
(*) Think of a property tax rebate as being a 10% off sale at Boscov's. That shirt still costs $25, but for now, you get it for $22.50. The price though is still $25, and at any time Boscov's can end the sale and charge you the full $25.

* * * * * *

I do worry about the recreational use of marijuana.  As noted above, I get that it's probably not worse than alcohol, but that's a thin argument to make for legalization.  There is also an admittedly selfish component to my thoughts about legalization:  Honestly, I find the smell of it repulsive.  I can see the day when just walking down the street my nose might be assaulted by the rancid stench.  

A bit more seriously, I had (emphasis on "had", as in past-tense) a brother who suffered greatly from substance abuse issues, which ultimately cost him his life.  Now I don't necessarily buy into the gateway drug argument against marijuana, as by that logic, smoking cigarettes could also fall under that category.  What I do wholeheartedly believe though is that substances designed to do nothing other than temporarily alter reality actually serve no useful purpose in life.  You see, that's the thing about altered realities:  They always lose to, as referenced in the play Rent, "actual reality".  For some, that notion of a temporary-but-altered reality is good enough.  The problem though is when the altered reality becomes so much more preferable than the real thing.  Having yet one more roadway into the temporary realm of unreality doesn't help society.

In the end, I suspect it is inevitable that marijuana use will become legal in Pennsylvania (and eventually the entire country).  Fast forward a few years after that and the campaigns against buzzed driving will start in earnest, along with additional resources to deal with the psychologically addicted.  It will be a movie we've already seen time and time again under the title of alcoholism.  This is basically a slow-moving train to nowhere, with the only real beneficiaries being those who find a way to legally monetize temporary excursions into the land of make-believe.



Friday, August 28, 2020

50 Shades of Elvis

Well, actually more like 8.

File this one under the category of "For no reason other than to just entertain me".


I'm convinced that, when you talk about the late Elvis Presley, it's simply not right to describe him in the singular.  In point of fact, I think there are actually 8 Elvises(1).  Allow me to explain.

Elvis #1:  Growing Up Elvis
This is the Elvis before there was an Elvis.  The blonde Elvis.  The Elvis with the burgeoning and almost un-natural attachment to his momma.  This the Elvis up until he made that initial recording at Sun Records (for, you guessed it, his momma).

Elvis #2:  Initial Fame Elvis
This is the "shaking his hips on national television and causing a commotion" Elvis.  The Elvis when most people think about Elvis.  The "Love me tender..." Elvis.  This is the epitome of all Elvis.

Elvis #3:  Army Elvis
This is Elvis when he joined the United States Army, stationed in Germany.  The Elvis who, while old enough to be in the Army, developed an almost un-natural attachment for a 14-year-old named Priscilla, who would later go on to be his wife " 'cilla".  This is the "your career is over" Elvis.  

Yet, life could not keep an Elvis down.    

Elvis #4:  Movie Elvis
This is the Elvis that made countless crappy movies, where Elvis always played a quasi-heroic outsider type who manages to save the day through elaborately staged 50's-era rock and roll songs.  Having seen a few Elvis movies myself, I defy anyone to binge-watch all of the Elvis movies and come out of the experience with most of their sanity in-tact.

Elvis #5:  '68 Comeback Special Elvis
This is the black leather-clad Elvis who, tired of repeating the same movie over and over again like some endless run of Home Improvement episodes, decided(2) to get back to his roots.

Want more '68 Comeback Special Elvis?  Click HERE

Elvis#6:  Vegas Act Elvis (a.k.a. In The Ghetto Elvis)
This is the "okay, I am a singer again, so now what?" Elvis.  The Elvis who wasn't capable of being a contemporary of artists such as The Beatles.  The Elvis who apparently discovered plus-sized rhinestone jumpsuits and had a flair for belts only slightly smaller than your average World Wrestling Federation champtionship belt.  The Elvis who fancied himself a gun-tot'n real G-man and developed an unnatural affinity for, of all people, Richard Nixon.

("Nilvis" from Wikipedia)

This is also the "In the Ghetto" Elvis.  Seriously, listen to the song.  This song should be an auditory aid when teaching the concept of insincerity to junior high school students.


Elvis#7:  Dead on the Throne Elvis
This is the Elvis who died on the toilet at age 42.  The Elvis who technically suffered from cardiac arrest as a cause of death, but given the circumstances, including his insatiable appetite for certain drugs, it's not much of a stretch to come to the conclusion that Elvis actually died from chronic constipation(3).  That's a crappy way to die(4)

More on the death of Elvis, all be it a sanitized version, can be found HERE.

Elvis#8:  Revisionist History Elvis
This is the Elvis of Graceland.  The Elvis of countless impersonators.  The Elvis of legend and lore.  The Elvis that didn't have an unnatural affinity for his momma, didn't date a minor, didn't have Col. Tom Parker strong-arm songwriting credits away from actual song-wrinters(5) and wasn't the demanding customer of proto-Dr.Feelgood drug-dealer Doctor Nicky(6)


A final note of sorts:  
I don't dislike Elvis.  I really don't.  I grew up listening to some of his music, and as noted above, I've seen far too many Elvis movies (a.k.a. Elvis#4) in my life.  I'll also note that, when you look at what this guy packed into a life of 42 years, well, it's nothing short of truly amazing.  

However (and you knew there was a "however" coming), the notion of what Elvis represents does bother me.  This includes what's already been mentioned in this posting plus his cultural appropriation (and sanitization) of The Blues and the willful ignorance of those who admire him.  Yes, I know we are all flawed as human beings, but if you are going to stake your livelihood on being such a public person, you had better be prepared for the accompanying scrutiny.  When you look at the life of Elvis, well, it's actually not always such a pretty picture.

Thank You.  

Thank You Very Much.


* * * * * *


(1) The correct plural of "Elvis" is "Elvises", not "Elvii, although I will note that "Elvii" would sound much better.  Citation HERE.

(2) When using a phrase like "Elvis decided..." it's important to remember that, outside of say dating a 14-year-old while an adult, Elvis didn't make a ton of actual decisions himself.  The man behind the curtain was his manager/svengali, "Colonel" Tom Parker.  More on "The Colonel" can be found HERE.

(3) Modern medicine is a great thing.  While many medications provide a tremendous service to us, some work, in part, by disrupting the connections between nerves and your brain.  A side effect though is that they also disrupt some of the nerve signals in your digestive system, resulting in, among other things, chronic and debilitating constipation.

(4) With apologies for the bad pun, but come on, this is a posting about Elvis Presley for Pete's sake. Potty humor is to be expected.  Sh*t, I did it again.

(5) Basicly, Elivs' manager would force songwriters to give Elvis partial songwriting credit in exchange for recording their music.  Citation HERE.

(6) Dr. Nicky refers to the real-life doctor George C. Nichopoulos, who effectively was the Official Elvis Dope-Dealer.  "DrFeelgood" refers to a terrific song by Motley Crue (see hyperlink).









Wednesday, August 19, 2020

It's Not A Pension Plan

Just a quick clarification for the masses.  



Often times, when politicians (in particular) want to paint a rosy picture of the economy, they will point to the stock market and talk about employee's "401(k) Pension Plans" increasing in value.  Well call me a stickler for details, call me a cynic, and call me someone with many years working in the retirement plan business.  Just don't feed me that particular line, as it's simply not true.

The untrue part 401(k) Plans are not "Pension" plans.  Technically, they are considered "cash or deferral arrangements" according to the Internal Revenue Code.  This means that they do not provide any guarantee of benefits of any sort; employees basically just get out of it what they put in, plus any employer contributions (which are not mandated), plus any investment gains.  Or minus any investment losses.  These contributions and investment results, if positive, are tax deferred until a later date.  Basically, the employee bears all of the risks.

The above means that if an employee doesn't voluntarily put away enough money, well, technically speaking, they are "screwed".

A true part 401(k) Plans were never intended to be replacements for actual pension plans.  By way of definition, a true pension plan is one where an employee would work for "X" years and get a lifetime monthly payment, for example, of "Y dollars", based on their pay and years of service.   Basically, under a pension, the employer bears all of the risks. 

The vast majority of companies in the United States no longer offer true pension plans.  Most do offer 401(k) plans.

So how did we get into this pickle?  Call it another victim of an ever-increasing desire to reduce corporate expenses.  Basically, the tax code makes having a true pension plan unfavorable for all but a very small number of employers.  The details of why that is the case are out of scope for a blog posting, but if you want to read more, click on THIS LINK from Investopedia.com for more information.

A bottom line of sorts:  If you work for an employer with a true pension plan, well, that is terrific.  If you don't, and the employer offers a 401(k) (or 403b or 457) plan, then by all means participate and contribute as much as you possibly can.  Also, because these plans rely on you to make investment decisions, take advantage of any professional advice offered by your employer or your own financial advisor.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Conditioning the Air

I've probably mentioned once or twice over the years that I grew up poor.  Now not "we ate lard sandwiches and had holes in our shoes" poor, but definitely on the lower end of the economic scale.  This was something I was painfully aware of as a kid, where "painfully aware of" means that I was ashamed of it.  Now I could go down a rabbit hole on that one, and maybe I will one day, but for now, the thing that spurred this whole thought in my head was air conditioning.

As a side note, according to the United States government (via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), July 2020 was the warmest month ever.  Reference HERE.  As in the warmest, on average, for the entire planet.  Having spent July 2020 doing a lot of work outside (I have some free time; see HERE), this fact does not surprise me one iota.  

Anyway, growing up my single-parent mother worked the night shift.  Trying to sleep during the day is tough; trying to sleep during the day when it's hotter than Daisy Fuentes, circa 1988, is nearly impossible.  The solution for my mother was a set of dark curtains and, during the summer, an actual window air conditioner (I'm going to say AC from now on, as I'm already tired of spelling out "air conditioning").  That was a luxury which was more or less a necessity for her.  The rest of us lived in a completely un-air-conditioned environment.  Granted that this was the 1970's and very early 1980's, but it was still hot in June, July & August while living in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  

We survived.

Now I'm not going to turn this into a "kids today are soft..." kind of rant, because this isn't about kids.  While the cost of air conditioners has gone down dramatically since I was young, your average 10-year-old in 2020 probably still doesn't have the means to buy their own AC unit.  The extent to which I think AC is over-used these days, well, that's squarely on the shoulders of the adults in the world.

These days, our home as two ductless and two window AC units.  My office, from which all of this spew originates, is not a room where we use AC.  That's on purpose, by the way.  While getting hot and sweaty isn't on my short-list of fun things to do, I just don't like being in a room with AC for an extended period of time.  To me, fresh air, even if it is on the hot side, is far better than the alternative.  I do have a pedestal fan running in the office now, but I'd like to think that is just moving around the fresh air, as opposed to "conditioning" it.  One of the ductless AC units is in our bedroom, and we do use it if the night is going to be on the warm side.  This is in part because of the fact that I have, for my entire life, been engaged a running cold war (no pun intended) with sleep, so there's no sense in handing the "can't sleep" side some extra ammunition.  

Back to the point at hand.  Maybe I truly am the crazy one, but I look at almost hermetically sealed homes with a bit of disbelief.  Windows are truly fine and functional, and there are few things better than a summer breeze and the smell of nature in the air.  The improvement of simply making it cooler inside seems like it comes at just too high of a cost when you chronically miss those things.

By the way, next year's breezes here should include the smell of the honeysuckle I planted and have been dutifully caring for since April.  


Free advice:  Open your windows and actually smell the fresh air.

And wear a mask when you go outside for Pete's sake.




Friday, August 7, 2020

Voting By Mail & Social Media Flamethrowers

You've probably seen this little ditty floating around social media:


Personally, I think it's a great example of the kinds of things foreign agitators are doing in order to sow seeds of doubt in our political system.  The fact that the president has "mail-in vote fraud" as a standard talking point doesn't help either.  

Personally, I think the very idea of comparing voting to shopping is a load of rubbish.  Here's why:
  • Civil Responsibility - I don't have a civic responsibility to go shopping.  I do have a civic responsibility to vote.  In fact, I'd call it a civic obligation.  Comparing voting to shopping is simply ridiculous.
  • Choice - I can get toilet paper at any number of places.  If Walmart happens to be unusually wackadoodle on a particular day, I can go to Walmart light, a.k.a. "nameless __________ Dollar store".  I have no choice come election day.  I have to go to the one and only place where the government says I need to cast my ballot if I am to vote in person.
  • One Day of the Year - I can go shopping at Walmart 7 days a week if I so desire.  In fact, if I go into Walmart and see that it's too crowded, I can simply come back the next day.  No harm is done.  Primary election voting however is only one day during the year.  The powers that be have also seen fit to make it on a work-day for most.  This means that, for many folks, they may not be able to come back to a polling place if it is crowded.  None of us can come back the next day and vote.
  • Health & Safety - Walmart, for example, makes some kind of effort (laughable as it may seem at times) to keep their stores clean and to enforce mask and social distancing rules.  I have no idea though whether local poll and government workers will do the same on election day.  If the enforcement of mask-wearing by local governments is any indicator, we could be in for some trouble come election day at polling places.
The final point is the most important one for me.  I am, generally speaking, a pretty healthy guy, all things considered, & high-milage noted.  However, I did develop asthma in my 40's.  Among other things, this means that on those rare occurrences when I do get a cold (for example...which occurs about once every 18 months or so), I get really sick.  Sick as in I end up having to take steroids for a few weeks.  Trust me when I say that two weeks of feeling greasy and bloated is not all that much fun, but it's better than hospitalization.  What's more, COVID-19 is no Cold, and I'm not about to throw months of being extraordinarily careful about hand-washing, mask-wearing, and avoiding crowds away just because of some Russian troll farm-produced and widely circulated a social media piece.

By all means, vote in person if you are moved to do so.  That's your right, and honestly what's most important here is that you simply do vote.  However, an entire state (Oregon) has been voting by mail for years now without any issues.  In fact, the president himself and, as I understand it, all of the senior members of his administration, have regularly voted by mail without issue.  A mail-in ballot goes through the exact same United States Postal Service channels whether it is an absentee ballot or a mail-in ballot.  

The bottom line is this:  The arguments against voting by mail don't stand up when you think about it logically, which is precisely why these kinds of things are designed by Ivan and his comrades to elicit an emotional response.  I'm voting by mail in the November election because it's simply safer for me to do so and because it is proven to be a secure way for me to exercise my civil obligation.  

Don't be so willing to take social media bait.  

Think about these things logically, not emotionally.  

What we should be passionate about here is encourage everyone we know to vote in November, be it in person or via the mail.


Friday, July 31, 2020

Johnny Thunders May Have Had A Substance Abuse Issue (Half Summer Check-In 2020)

A few things I've learned and have had confirmed over the half of the summer(1) that technically isn't really a "half-summer". 
  • Adrift:  As a nation, we are sadly adrift morally, ethically, and politically.  We have a good third of voters who basically feel that there is no set of standards by which to hold elected officials.  None.  These folks will continue to blindly follow a leader no matter what he tweets.  Many also view needless cruelty as now being somehow a virtue (along with serial marriage, vanity, and business bankruptcy), to be emulated.  If we don't hold a president to a basic set of standards of conduct (i.e., no rage tweeting, no name-calling, no bearing false witness against others, no pushing conspiracy theories as facts), then how can we hold anyone else accountable?  We're currently in a race to the bottom, and there will be no winner.
  • Conduct:  I don't want police officers killing people needlessly and with no accountability.  I don't want protesters to burn down businesses within their own communities. The solution to the former is actually pretty simple in my book...the police must never be in a position whereby they have sole authority to investigate themselves.  There needs to be a non-partisan, non-political, non-labor focused vehicle for civilian police oversight.  Going back to my first sentence, the good cops deserve this, and if we do the former well, it's likely that it will help the latter.
  • Re-Fund the Police:  I don't want the police de-funded.  Instead, I want their funding moved away from military purposes and towards helping people.  I think that's actually what the vast majority of police officers actually want to do as well, by the way...namely to actually help others.  As an example, many police forces have military-style "SWAT" teams; maybe we need less of that and more people & training designed to help those in a mental health crisis.
  • Racism:  There is systemic racism in this country, and I am not sure that will ever change.  You can see this in the many Confederate tropes are still glorified in the United States (ref. HERE).  This noted, the solution to it is to not deny its existence, as the Attorney General recently did during Congressional testimony (ref. HERE).  I view racism as being a blanket problem that can probably only be solved one person at a time.
  • Economy:  Nowhere is the out-of-touch nature of our federal government more on display than when it comes to current economic conditions.  The current debate about how some folks may be making more money by not working (between unemployment compensation & a temporary federal subsidy) than actually having a job is a great example.  If you take that idea at face value, does it not beg the following question - Doesn't this mean that we don't economically value work enough?  Maybe the solution here isn't to reduce the helping hand provided during the time of a crisis but instead focus on actually increasing the economic value of work in our economy.  Put another way, it's not that the subsidies are too high...it's that the pay is too low.
These are not fun times, by any stretch.  Maybe, ten years from now when I look back at this posting(2), this will be the bottom of a kind of curve that will start swinging upward in the not too distant future.

We are all in the world, by the way, so none us escape the kinds of things that are noted above.  In fact, they are a kind of background for our main gig, namely our lives.  Here's where my "main gig" stands.
  • Writing...is surprisingly hard for me these days, much more so than at any other point in my life.
  • Reading...ditto on reading, at least as it applies to books.  I think it's a case of over-compensation in my own head, whereby I feel the need to be constantly "productive", and I don't always value reading for pleasure through that lens.
  • Job...I'm still in job search mode, and saying that this is a "difficult time to be looking for a job" is like saying "Johnny Thunders(3) may have had a substance abuse issue".   
  • Health...physically I'm doing okay, although spending 2 hours a day during 90-degree weather working outside probably isn't always the best of ideas.  My personal goal is to fight the very idea of getting physically older for as long as possible.  Mentally?  Not working creates a mental conflict for me in the sense that I feel a need to always be productive.  As it stands, I'm still too young to retire, and I've personally invested so much in my professional life to date (for example, the time, effort and money required to earn a Masters degree) that it doesn't make sense to just say "to heck with it, I'm going to work in a QuickieMart"...not that there is anything inherently wrong with working in a QuickieMart.  My choice...my only choice...is to just persevere on, knowing that something will happen career-wise.  
On that note, it's time to wrap this posting up.  Here's to the balance of the summer of 2020 being a bit less dramatic for all of us.


* * * * * *


(1) As kids, we all experienced this:  Summer started when schools let out, and by the time late August came around, it was more or less time to start thinking about the school year starting again.  Hence, mid/late July = Half Summer.

(2) Not so far fetched, as I've been writing this blog since October, 2008.

(3) Former lead guitarist for the punk bank The New York Dolls.

Friday, July 17, 2020

COVID-19, July 2020

So here we are, several months after the start of the pandemic, and where do we find ourselves?  There is far better and insightful stuff written on this topic, so I'm probably not going to add much to the conversation.  That noted I'm going to try.  Here are two things that are pinging around in my head related to these days we all find ourselves in:
  • The Politicization of a Pandemic
  • How COVID-19 is harming mental health
On to the stuff.

POLITICIZATION



My intent is not to make this an overly political posting...there will be time for that as we get closer to November...but one basic fact strikes me about the current administration's approach to the pandemic:  They treat it primarily as a political, rather than a medical, problem.

Let that sink in and then ask yourself how many times the current administration has released commentary supposedly about the pandemic but which actually seemed more about things other than the health of Americans?  Yes, we all want a thriving economy.  Yes, we all understand that unemployment creates a tremendous amount of stress for folks (I can personally testify to that fact).  Yes, kids learn best actually in school, and I mourn for those kids who need extra help in school but will likely not get it because of COVID-19.  But consider, for example, that it was only a few days ago from the writing of this posting when the president was publicly shown wearing a mask (thank God, as he was at Walter Reed Medical Center).  Couple that with the legion of comments he has made over the past few months about how the pandemic was going to disappear very soon and you get a distinct impression that actual fact-based medical concerns are not driving public policy.

No more is this self-evident than the president actually re-tweeting a one-time game-show host spewing conspiracy theories about COVID-19.  Not an epidemiologist.  Not a micro-biologist.  A game-show host.  You can link to that HERE, as I'm not going to give it any of my space.  Again, let that sink in:  The president is actually taking the word of a game-show host over that of medical and scientific experts at the Centers for Disease Control (reference HERE).

All of this is even more remarkable when you consider that the first non-politician president in a very long time is probably the most politically focused president in my lifetime. Nixon's obsessions about his re-election have nothing on this guy.

Lastly, the best example of the sum of these actions has been the refusal of some on religious and/or supposed freedom grounds to wear a mask while in an enclosed public place.  I've personally witnessed confrontations in stores about this very topic.  It takes all of my self-control to not walk up to someone not wearing a mask and ask them the last time they fought against the tyranny of having to wear a shirt or shoes while in a grocery store.  And that comes from someone, me, who has asthma.

Here's my sad prediction:  As long as White House decisions about COVID-19 continue to be driven by politics and political optics geared towards the president's "base", rather than the actual health of all Americans, we will continue to see cases roller-coaster across the country.


MENTAL HEALTH
I was talking to my wife about how many obituaries there seem to be for younger people these days.  Maybe that's not supported by actual data, but it seems to be the case as I observe it.  That conversation then went down the road of how difficult these times can be for those who are already struggling with their mental health.  It's a kind of parallel health crisis track that doesn't seem to be getting much in the way of press.  Call us, as a culture, consistent though in that actually talking about mental health isn't something we do nearly enough of in this country.  The media, in particular, needs to elevate this conversation.

On a related note, as I was planning this posting, I had the opportunity to talk to an actual mental health professional the other day about this topic.  This person is an experienced, licensed clinical social worker.  One issue that they raised was the fact that with so many patients being "seen" via phone call appointments, mental health professionals miss out on a key data point, namely the facial expressions and body language of patients.  So now we have the under-care of mental health being exacerbated by the pandemic.  Make this reason number 987 why we need a decisive, national strategy to deal with COVID-19.


* * * * * *

Here's to hoping that a vaccine is ready by the end of the year.  Then we can start fighting the "anti-vac" crowd.


Friday, July 10, 2020

Life with Walleye Vision

I've always been this way.

(Guess which one is me, pre-eye surgery)

The comment "Walleye Vision" came in jest from a co-worker in the early '90s.  I didn't actually mind.  In fact, though, Walleye Vision is a real medical term that refers to something called "exotropia".  More on that in a moment.


I speak, of course, about my eyes.  My peepers.  Make that my "admittedly malfunctioning" eyes.  I was born with a condition that basically prevents me from focusing both eyes at the same time.  The diagnosis of it all breaks down something like this, from general to specific:

(literally "to squint")

("lazy eye")

("eyes pointing outward")

Just to make things even more interesting, one of my eyes is near-sighted and the other is far-sighted, which I understand is not uncommon in cases such as mine.

So, how is my vision anyway?

Well first the bad I really can't see out of both eyes at the same time, and as a result, I have poor depth perception.  Where "bad" means that, for example, as a kid, I would occasionally walk into parking meters in downtown Scranton.  3D movies?  They just look dark and blurry, even with the glasses on.  Suffice to say, having a backup camera on my truck is a godsend.  If you want to get a sense as to how I actually see the world, this is something of an approximation:


The not so bad?  My eyes, individually, have fairly good corrected vision.  As in they work individually well when I am wearing my glasses.  They just don't work well together.  Kind of like the Beatles, circa 1969.

Music references aside, I can sense that my non-focusing (at the moment) eye sees things, but that visual is almost not there.  It's easy to tell which eye is the "working" one, by the way, as it will be the eye focusing forward; the other eye will have moved off to the side somewhere.  It may appear that I am looking sideways, but the reality is that the sideways looking eye can't see (much of) anything.

There are some additional things that go with this whole hot mess, including:
  • A strong propensity towards vision-induced headaches*
  • Near constant eyestrain (see the first bullet)
  • Chronic bloodshot eyes (no, I have not been drinking)
  • Not the best nighttime vision (I'm not sure why)
  • Blurry vision when I am tired (not all that uncommon)
  • A complete and utter inability to draw a straight line (I have a lot of company)
  • On rare occasion, double-vision (not fun when you are 5 years old; see below)
(*) Basically, I take enough in the way of painkillers that it's a small wonder my blood clots at all. 


Growing up I knew my eyes were different.  Having had two surgeries (at about ages 5 & 6) and occasionally having to wear an eye patch provided me with that clue.  There was also the time when I was pretty sick with a fever and a bad case of double vision, with objects being distorted, seeming to move towards me, and then fall into the background.  That particular episode was horror-movie quality, at least for a 5-year-old.  For the most part though, I didn't catch much in the way of grief from other kids.  Oddly enough, as someone who was self-conscious about almost everything, my eyes didn't cause me all that much stress.

As I got older, it wasn't until my 30's that I actually began to find out what was medically wrong with my eyes.  Not that it mattered all that much by that point.  My main concern was that my vision not get any worse, which thankfully has not been the case.  Technically speaking, my vision has gotten better over the years.  Individually.  In each eye.  These days, my primary vision concern is the fact that I have a freckle inside my left eyeball (a Choroidal Nevus) that needs to be monitored.  Worst case...to the tune of about a less than 1% chance...is that I end up with eyeball cancer, but there's a silver lining with that one:  I'd lose the eye, but gain a really cool pirate eye-patch or, even better, a glass eyeball that I could take out and amaze grandchildren with when that time comes.  Needless to say, I've already had plenty of practice when it comes to only looking out of one eye.
   
In the end, well, we all have these little (and not so little) idiosyncrasies that make us unique.  There's no sense wishing that we were somehow not so different because the wisdom of getting older teaches us that we're all the same in being different anyway.  And that's okay.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Sheep and the Goats (a tale for our modern age)


There's a lot of talk these days about wearing masks, individual freedom, etc.  Some of that talk comes most loudly from people who identify as Christians.  Given that point, maybe a reading from the Gospel would be a good idea.  Hi-lights by me.

* * * * * *

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
(From the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31 to 46; NIV edition)
* * * * * *
In today's world, the "least of my brothers and sisters" could be the poor, the immigrant (legal or otherwise), the minority, the Muslim, the mentally ill.  It could be that person fighting cancer who risks their own health to get to the supermarket once a week, relying on others to also wear a mask to keep them safe.  It's anyone and everyone on the margin and in need of assistance.  It's a bit of an inconvenient truth really in this day and age of the "me":  The duty of every Christian is to see God in "the least".  Furthermore, if we truly want a "Godly government" and "Godly leaders" maybe these entities should spend less time catering to those who have (and who coincidentally donate campaign cash) and more time leading by example and taking care of those who do not have...in other words, the "least of my brothers and sisters".

Now, is it truly that much of a burden to wear a mask at the supermarket?


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Update (of a sort)

(on the road to somewhere)

I have been hard pressed to actually write anything over the past 2+ weeks.  It's not for lack of ideas, as I think of new things to write about all the time.  On the other side of the coin, I really only do this for myself, so it's not as if I have to write.  I could end the blog right now, as so many others have already done with their on-line writing (or even worse, just let it atrophy out of existence).  Like most things related to me though, the answers depend on the questions, and the questions can get mighty complicated.

An added obstacle to writing this posting is actually what I wrote on June 10th.  By most standards, that was a wildly successful posting, in that it got a ton of page views and was shared a number of times in social media.  This puts me in the mental trap of "well, I have to write something even better now".  Maybe now I've finally gotten myself back to the point of not really caring all that much about how many times anything I write is actually viewed.

Anyway, I'm back.  At least for now.  That noted, here are a few things pinging around in my head these days:

Politics - The current president is simply an amplification of everything that's wrong with our nation.  He is the ultimate "ugly American".  There isn't a day that goes by when his very own words (usually via Twitter) don't disgust me.  For someone who claims mighty injustice over how he is covered by the media, he fails to realize that it's his own words that harm him the most.  As the election gets closer I'll have more to say on this topic.  In the end, the November election won't be about a particular man, but instead it will be about who we are, as a people, at our very core.

COVID-19 - Nothing screams the very worst of Americans than those who loudly complain about having to wear a face mask in public.  Nowhere is this more on display than at your local WalMart.  As someone with a chronic breathing problem...I have asthma (which I developed in my mid-40's)...I am disgusted by the claims of some that they shouldn't have to wear a mask because of a health condition.  Look, if someone genuinely can't go out side wearing a mask then I think they have two choices:
  1. Get and use a high quality, medical grade face shield.
  2. Don't go outside, because clearly they are so frail that they shouldn't be out in public anyway.
The ugly American choice of "well I have the freedom to put others at risk" isn't on the table.  Also, I've seen graphics and read commentary on-line mocking the wearing of masks because doing so "is like trying to stop mosquitos with a chain-link fence".  Another example of American ignorance at its very worst.  For the record, the virus particles expelled by someone are attached to vapor droplets as we exhale/sneeze/cough.  Masks can definitely help stop the spread of those vapor droplets (and by extension the viruses that they contain).  Bottom line?  If you go outside WEAR A DAMN MASK!

At Home - As I work through the mechanics of finding new employment, I'm left with countless projects to complete around the house.  I've already completed quite a few things, including a section of landscaping and working on our front porch.  The easy thing to say is "well you have this time off, so you should be relaxing"...but that's just not me.  I need a lot of mental stimulation, which makes times like this somewhat challenging.  Along with this comes uncertainty, as in when my next professional opportunity will come to light.  I don't especially like uncertainty.  In any event, all stories have endings, including the story of my COVID-19 job search.  Hopefully I am now in the later chapters.

Music - I've listened the Genesis song The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway literally dozens of times over the past few weeks.  It's a kind of hidden treasure of listening.  At first listen your impression might be "yeah, that's okay...the keyboard part is pretty neat...but I don't understand the lyrics".  Listen to it a few times, with really good headphones, and you'll hear...

...the seeming time signature change at the very beginning of the song
...an early version Phil Collins' big drum sound
...how Peter Gabriel seamlessly goes from signing to screaming (and back)
...the very descriptive (of New York City) lyrics
...the fact that it's the bass guitar that's really driving the song

To the final point, Mike Rutherford used a microfret 6 string fuzz bass (more details HERE) on the song.  The bass guitar is simply incredible on this song.  Anyway, enjoy...

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Civil War, Slavery & a Rag

(graphic by me, from an original posting about 10 years ago)


Submitted for the common good, if you go to this link...

...you will find the text of The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States, which is basically a kind of "declaration of independence" for 5 of the southern states that left the Union before the Civil War.  Now I've written posts in the past about my disdain for the filthy rag, also known as the Confederate battle flag, and one of the common retorts I've gotten is that the Civil War was not about slavery, but instead it was really about __________________ (pick'm...economics, states rights, etc.) and the flag is a part of southern heritage.  This document though is a great example of just how flawed that logic actually is in practice.

38 is the number of times that "slavery" is mentioned in the above document.

To quote the section authored by leaders of the state of Mississippi:
"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world." 

"It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction."
("It" is the Federal Union)

And Georgia:
"That reason was her fixed purpose to limit, restrain, and finally abolish slavery in the States where it exists. The South with great unanimity declared her purpose to resist the principle of prohibition to the last extremity."
("Her" is the Federal Union; "principle of prohibition" is the abolishing of slavery) 

And South Carolina:
"The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights..."

And Texas:
"She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time."
("She" is Texas)

"...to perpetuate the amity between the members of the confederacy and to secure the rights of the slave-holding States in their domestic institutions..."
(the "domestic institutions" in question include the right to own other humans)

As an added bonus, you can find the original text of Florida's reasons for seceding HERE.  The term "slave" or "slavery" is mentioned 14 times in the 1388 word document.  From the document:
"Their natural tendency every where shown where the race has existed to idleness vagrancy and crime increased by an inability to procure subsistence. Can any thing be more impudently false than the pretense that this state of things is to be brought about from considerations of humanity to the slaves."
("Their" references slaves themselves)


So yes, the Civil War was about southern rights and economics, most especially the "right" to own other human beings for economic purposes, as noted by Texas "in all future time".


I know people who believe that there is nothing wrong with the Confederate battle flag.  I want to believe that these folks sincerely just don't realize how horrible a symbol that flag is, so I'm hoping that they take some time to ask themselves if they truly support what this flag stood for...including racism, the grave sin of slavery, and treason.  It's not a secret or a coincidence that racist organizations continue to fly this repugnant piece of fabric trash.

(from THIS source)

By the way, some change is finally coming with regard to this symbol of slavery (see HERE).

To the Deniers:
It's your prerogative, I suppose, to disagree with this posting.  There was a point in my life when I believed in some of this nonsense as well.  I got over it though...growing up and experiencing a bit of the world will help do that...and I hope that one day you do too.  Ask yourself why you still support this racist symbol:  Is it out of pride at not wanting to admit you are wrong?  Is it out of some sense of rebellion, a kind of "sticking it to the man", that you must resist what others tell you (even when what they tell you is that slavery and racism are evil)?  At this stage it certainly can't be about your ignorance of history and the facts surrounding the flag.  In the end, life is too short for the intellectual tap dancing (or flat-out denial) required to defend this putrid symbol of systemic evil.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

I Voted (2 weeks ago)


For the second time in my life, I voted by mail.  The first was the general election of 2016 when election day coincided with a vacation in Florida.  Why was this time number two?  The most basic reason is the fact that, as someone with asthma, I just didn't want to run the risk of being with a large group of people for an extended period of time in an enclosed space.  Another reason was basically that I could.

What's important is that I voted.  Period.

Now there has been a lot of noise in social media about voting by mail.  Sadly, I will note, I think part of that noise is simply designed to:

1) Suppress the vote
2) Instill a lack of confidence in our voting system

None of that noise is based in fact.  Voting by mail has not proven to be any less secure than voting in person (citation HERE).  In fact, Pennsylvania's former governor, testifying in court trying to defend a voter ID law (that was struck down), conceded that he, as a former Attorney General for Pennsylvania (and as governor) had not prosecuted a single case of voter fraud by impersonation (citation HERE).  Not a single one.  Voting fraud is exceptionally rare.  What's more, the state of Oregon, which has allowed voting by mail for many years, has not had any significant voter fraud issues.


"if you can wait in line at Walmart, you should be able to wait in line to vote" is one of the gems of (un)wisdom making the social media rounds.  First, comparing the right to vote to buying cat litter at a place where 46% of shoppers are wearing pajamas is a bit of a stretch precisely because one is optional and the other is an obligation.  What's more, I can make a choice about where and when to shop...those choices are really not as available when voting in person, where the polls are only open for a certain period of time on one day and in only one location (for me).

Another bit of twisted logic associated with voting by mail is the fact that some of the loudest voices against it are also some of the individuals who actually do it themselves.  If the concern is that voting by mail is not secure, well, then it is not any more secure if the reason for voting by mail is to cast an absentee ballot?  I know though that hypocrisy is a difficult concept for the dim to grasp.  What's more, if mail is susceptible to fraud, why then do we use it for such high-risk endeavors as sending Social Security checks?  For more information about fraud and voting by mail click HERE.

In the end, we need to look at who would want to discourage voting by mail and why they would be so predisposed.  I suspect that a hard look at this opposition will show us things that we'd prefer not to see, namely the fact that some believe they will win only if others don't vote in large numbers.  That's not how a democracy works by the way.

I am not sure how I will be voting in November's general election.  Part of the decision will be driven by the status of COVID-19.  I have an obligation to both keep myself healthy and help change this country for the better, and those two thoughts are not mutually exclusive.  What's important is that I will be voting in November, no matter what happens.