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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

"The"

Many years ago, when Ms. Rivers and I first started dating (that sounds pathetic coming from someone who isn't in their 20's or younger, but so I digress), I remember her telling me that she would not allow her sons to watch "The Family Guy".  Given the content of the show, I was hardly in a position to argue the point.  That, however, hasn't been what's stuck with me all these years later.

Before I go further, to make sense of this posting, the first thing you need to realize that the show is actually titled...

Family Guy

-not-

The Family Guy

The second thing to know is that the moment I find something off-beat and funny, well, I'll literally beat it to death to the point of being ridiculous. 

To that second point, all these years later, I've taken to adding random "The" to things.  For example...

Today we are going to the Philadelphia

Where the show "It's Always Sunny in the Philadelphia" takes place

Last Sunday I had the Turkey Loaf for dinner

I got my younger stepson a vintage poster from the Supertramp for his bedroom

I enjoy listening to a CD from the Roxette on my drive to work

I have a great family doctor at the Geisinger

My younger stepson likes it when his Mom makes the eggs in a hole for breakfast

The odder the place where I can insert a "the", well, the better.  Why?  I can't really explain why, other than the fact that in some small way it amuses me and that I always need to have lots of different things pinging around in my head at any given time, including finding odd places where I can insert a "the".  Fortunately, Ms. Rivers is pretty tolerant of my rampant silliness.  Given the other myriad of things I could be doing, well, this seems like a minor inconvenience.

On a happier note, it's almost the 2021, which is truly good news.




Friday, December 25, 2020

Happy Christmas

 


If ever a nation...and a world...absolutely needed Christmas, it is now, in the year 2020.  I don't know that there is much more I can actually add to that point.  If anything, maybe the legacy of 2020 in general, and Christmas 2020 in particular, will be that the things that truly matter most don't come from stores and aren't delivered in the mail.  These are things like the health of our family members and friends, and the knowledge that a bit of sacrifice every now and then for the greater good, even if that sacrifice is as simple as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, is good for the soul.

I understand that what I noted above may not make that much sense for those who are missing a loved one who passed away, especially if the cause was COVID-19.  Then again, there is pretty much nothing I can say in general that can explain or just make a bit of sense about the loss of a friend or family member.  If there was, I would have told myself that a while ago.  In these cases, I think we just need to try and understand that there are parts of the natural world that are beyond our ability to comprehend.  This seems to me to be part of the best argument out there for a higher power, something that is greater than us and which helps creates some order out of what certainly seems like a senseless and chaotic universe.

Finally, I try not to give advice here, mostly because (A) I am unqualified and (B) Why would anyone listen to me anyway?  Yet, this being an extraordinary time, I will do just that:  This Christmas, we should all cherish those friends and family members we can see and spend time with, even if that's as simple as a loving cat or dog.   The world will change and things will get better...we just need to be patient for a little bit longer.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

8 Minutes of Retractions

 

8 Minutes of retractions by right-wing media outlets where they back-track on claims of election fraud in 2020.  

In a notably crappy 2020, this is a kind of year-end gift for the sane.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

2021 The Time It Will Be

I want to go to an IKEA in the worst of ways.  

I'll qualify that previous statement by saying that there basically isn't anything I actually need from IKEA.  I just want to go there.  I want to experience it.  As I've probably noted before, IKEA is in my mind probably the best brick-n-mortar retailer on the planet.  These smart Swedes have turned shopping into something of an experience that almost (well at least for me) transcends the need to actually buy things.  Mind you, I actually do buy things at IKEA, which is the other part of the genius of the place.  


There's something bigger though this time around as I rant about my favorite retailer.  Based on the crap-fest that has been 2020, on multiple levels, I think many of us just want to be able to do simple things that seem, well, normal in 2021.  We miss the normal things, and I also think that some of us are secretly (or not so secretly) afraid that "normal" will never come back.  That may be right, and it actually may be for the best.  

We will not be able to go back to the idea that our technology and modern way of life somehow insulates us from the basic things in the natural world.  Viruses don't care about things going "viral" online, as they have the real thing on their side.  Literally.

We will not be able to go back to the idea that we have this "better" version of democracy.  2020 has shown us that we are actually one conspiracy theory away from the banana republics we previously mocked.

We will not be able to go back to ignoring the essential workers out there while simultaneously idolizing adults that play games for a living.  Nurses (for example) did the hard, dangerous work of the pandemic.  Professional athletes played games in front of cardboard spectators.  The logic here seems pretty simple.  

We will not be able to go back to thinking that racists are just these small groups of hillbillies who secretly meet in the woods for beer and the occasional religious symbol burning.  Nope, they very well may live right next door.  Or across the street. Or maybe working in the White House*.

"Normal", it seems, may very well be a relative term.  That sounds so gloom and doom to me when I read the above back to myself.  Yet more often than not, for something new to be built, something old has to be destroyed.  If you live a full life into your 50's this becomes oh so abundantly clear.  A least to me.

So what new will be built?  I can't say with much conviction I know the answer to that, at least not on a macro-level.  Some of that stuff is just too far above my pay-grade.  What I can talk about is me, and it feels like I've talked a lot about myself in these postings over the years.  In a nutshell, basically, I need some relative sense of stability so that I can pry myself out of what can best be described as an on-going crisis mode.  Part of this is my career.  Part of this is doing a better job of truly letting go of some ghosts of the past.  And we all have ghosts of the past by the way; it's just that mine seem to rent more space in my head than they actually pay for and deserve.

What I will say about the world at large is this:  Maybe all of this pandemic despair and political insanity will help us collectively realize that it truly is the basic, simple things in life that matter the most.  Things like...

Being kind to each other...

Being considerate...

Assuming positive intent (until there is actual evidence to the contrary)...

Acknowledging that name-calling and racist dog-whistles are bad (especially coming from a leader)...

Acknowledging that we are far dependent on each other than we want to believe...

Being kinder to ourselves...

That last one is a bit of a dual-use statement, as the dirty (not so) secret thing here is that I am far, far more critical of myself than I would ever tolerate in someone else being critical of another.  The former is a learned trait.  The good news though is that while we can't really "un-learn" something, we can always learn new things.

So, for 2021, let's all learn some new things.  Some good things.

  



(*) Do I personally feel that all the people who voted for the current (as of December 20, 2020) sitting president are racists?  No.  I do, however, think they are more tolerant of racists than they should be.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

2020 The Time It Was

Decades from now, if I'm still around, I'll be reading the history books about the horror that was the year 2020.  Of course, there was (well, now, "is") the pandemic.  Then we had a president who believed in American democracy...but only to the extent that it allowed him to do whatever he wanted.  Then we have murder hornets.  The passing of an iconic Supreme Court justice (the Notorious RBG).  And countless other things.

What will stick out the most for me?

Well, before I answer that, I want to note that I'm not minimizing the tragedy of COVID-19.  We are, at the moment, nowhere near the end of this, so I'm sure there will be grim entries yet to come.  But yet, while I've known people who got sick (and a former boss who died from it), some of the collateral that goes with it hasn't been too terrible for me.  Saving a trip to a restaurant isn't the worst thing that could ever happen to me.  In fact, if people didn't get sick and die...if all we had to do was deal with social distancing, wear masks, wash hands, and staying home more often...well, I think it would be fine with me.  I know, that may sound terrible, but as I often say, it has the benefit of being true.

Anyway, the worst part of 2020 for me was the 6 months I spent between employers.  As I noted (probably too often) before, when you work for an employer for nearly 28 years, and then find yourself in the job market, well, it becomes something of a small trauma.  Except for the fact that I have worked for four different employers since that 28-year stint.  In three of the four cases, well, my hope was that it would be my final career stop.  That was not to be.  Well, I am hopeful for one of those stops (see below).  You see, I just wasn't equipped for the whole four employers in four years thing.  I wasn't intellectually equipped, and I wasn't emotionally equipped.  It's just not me.

Like most things in life though, it is the hard times that become something of a down-payment for the good times in our lives.  It's the bad times that help us better understand ourselves and appreciate the good times.  It's every blues song ever written.  It is all the grand cycle of life.

The above seems to be true for me, at least in the case of all I have experienced, sans one* glaring example.

Getting back to the dumpster fire that is 2020, my 6 months in the trenches of a job search laid bare some of the worst that pings around in my head.  It would do that to anyone.  I'm connected to a few folks on LinkedIn who are still battling a job search, for longer than my 6 months, and I'm shocked that some of them still manage to get up every day and keep trying.  Yet they do.  I will gladly say that many of these folks are better than I am, in more than a way or two.  Count me among the fortunate.

Speaking of fortune, sometimes it comes at your sideways, where you least expect it.  So it was for me, with more than 6 dozen employment prospects having not worked out, I ended up seeing an Indeed.com posting that I almost ignored.  It wasn't the kind of organization I had any experience with, which left me with thoughts of "they would never be interested in me".  Yet for some reason, I thought to myself "what the heck...I'll apply".  I expected even less from that application than I did from just about anything else I sought interest in during those 6 months.  

Oddly enough, it worked.  It really worked.  An unexpected phone call and two formal interviews later and I type this a fully employed human person.  For more than 60 days now.  It sounds like a cliche, but there are times when I just want to pinch myself, as it doesn't seem quite real.  I feel a mix of good fortune and cautious optimism (the latter of which is far harder for me to process than it probably is for others, as I have been told I am wired for "when it's good it's bad").  

All of this reminds me of the fact that life isn't a freeway, but instead, it's sometimes like the worst turning circle on Earth.  I'm going to be thinking about these experiences for a very long time to come.  That's the worst-case by the way.  The best case?  Well, maybe I'll just be happy.      



(*) My one glaring example:  I doubt I will ever see the good side of losing my brother.  He should still be here, and I can say with 1000% honesty that I truly miss him.




  



Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Giving Thanks Is More Important (in the worst of times)

It's almost Thanksgiving, and I would bad a bad blogger if I didn't write something appropriate for the holiday, as I likely have already done over the past 11 years.  Of course, the difference in 2020 is the fact that it has been literally the worst year possible for so many out there, me not necessarily excluded.  How or why to give thanks when...

...the world is in the grips of a pandemic

...so many in our country believe that our nation is on the wrong path

...so many are struggling financially

...we have a sitting president who is trying to engage in a judicial coup d'├ętat

...so many of us will not be able to spend our holidays with our extended families

The answer?

We just do.  We still give thanks.  In fact, at no time is giving thanks more important, in part because some of these things lay bare realities of our world which we would just as soon forget.  Being forced to acknowledge reality is in itself a blessing, all be it one that's sometimes tough to swallow.  Especially for some.

So what I'm going to do is talk about what I am thankful for, acknowledging full well that there are things happening that I don't understand but which may in fact be lessons to be learned.  Call that whatever you like; maybe a good word, for now, is simply "Faith".

Here's my list.

I am thankful for my wife.  There are times when I genuinely wonder why in the heck anyone would want to spend time with me.  I am admittedly not much fun.  In fact, my idea of doing something "fun" is to actually sit alone in my office working on some inane thing.  Yet she loves me for who I am.  Better yet, she sees things in me...good things...that I have probably been conditioned to not see myself.  She is also my hero.

I am thankful that my children are healthy.  No other explanation needed.  Given the circumstances, that's truly a very good thing, and I hope it stays that way.

I am thankful for my job.  In 2020 I spent slightly over 6 months out of work.  In fact, never in my entire adult life have I never had so much time not working.  Not even in college.  The 6 months weren't without their trials and frustrations, as noted on these pages, and while I presented a confident face to the world, the reality is that I had more than a few "moments of doubt and pain".  Fast forward to now and I could not have imagined in July where I would be in November.  I don't know what the future holds for my career, but what I do know is this:  I think I am in the right place.  You can learn more about the professional me through my LinkedIn profile.

I am thankful for hope.  While there is so very much confusion, anger, and disarray on a national political level, we do have hope.  This is the hope of a president-elect who does not constantly rage tweet.  Of someone who wants to be the leader of the entire country, not just the parts that support him.   A president that will tear down walls instead of building them up.

I am thankful for the "givers".  It seems that, over the past few years, some in our society made "taking"...selfishness...greed...anger...xenophobia...good things.  Yet throughout all of this, we still have those who are selfless in their giving.  This includes people like nurses (under-paid superheroes if ever there was such a thing), police, those working with the disabled/those in need, people who help/protect and protect animals, and many, many others.  It's nice to be reminded that greed is not in fact good and that some still risk it all in the name of giving to others. 

I am thankful for my health.  I have not always been so very kind to my body, and I need to do better.  Yet in spite of myself, I am still reasonably healthy.  I need to do better though.

I am thankful for my friends and my network.  I am thankful for every email, text message, LinkedIn message, and phone call of support I received while I was out of work.  I am particularly thankful for those who asked for my help during this time.  It meant a lot to me to feel useful.  I hope I can return those favors in the months and years to come.

I am thankful for the gift of expression.  These blog postings may be self-indulgent, poorly written nonsense, but they are mine.  While so much of my life has changed over the 12 years of this blog, the blog itself has been something of a steady companion, chronicling the world both inside and outside my head.  It's not much, but it is mine. 

I hope that you...whoever you are...can find the time to give thanks, even in these seemingly worst of times.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Better Days


"Well my soul checked out missing as I sat listening to the hours and minutes ticking away
Yeah just sitting around waiting for my life to begin while it was all just slipping away
And I'm tired of waiting for tomorrow to come or that train to come roaring 'round the bend
I got a new set of clothes and a pretty red rose and a woman I can call my friend"
-Bruce Springsteen


In some respects, it's gotten even more difficult these days for me to describe the world around me and how I feel about living in it.  Not good for someone with a casual commitment to writing that spans over 12 years.  We have a global pandemic that seems to be creeping within everyone's six degrees of separation.  We also have a president who, instead of dealing with the pandemic, is instead holed up in the White House, pouting over an election loss he still will not publicly acknowledge.  And conniving...lots of conniving.  Could we maybe take, say, 40% of that energy spent conniving and re-deploy it towards helping people instead?

I know the above sounds very gloom-n-doom.  I do, however, remind myself of what Oscar Wilde wrote many years ago...


...and one of the things that the pandemic has taught us is that we really are all in the same gutter.  

Another consequence of these days is the fact that many of us, including me, are robbed of the ability to see family members over the holidays.  With two of my three daughters living in other states, the opportunities to actually get together are normally few and far between; for the 2020 holidays that changes from "few" to "non-existent".  That's part though of the larger paradox of parenthood though, namely that we raise our children with the intent of them being able to be independent and successful on their own, but yet achieving that goal comes at a cost.  COVID is a kind of rapid inflation of that cost.  Luckily I have a daughter who lives locally, a loving and understanding wife, two stepsons, and a few cats.

I get the fact though that some people have virtually no one.  And among the cruelties of life, being alone during a pandemic is probably near the top of the list.  That very fact is probably one of the better arguments for an after-life though:  There should some be some kind of cosmic recompense for those who suffer in that kind of way in this life.

Technical note:  This posting is already full of typos.  More are probably lying in wait, and my 4.5 hours of sleep last night probably isn't going to be of much help in ferreting them out.

In any event, we have no choice but to be here where we are now.  I also am reminded that nothing in life is permanent, including petulant man-child presidents and pandemics.  Maybe Thanksgiving is even more important in 2020 than ever before, serving as a reminder that even in the seemingly worst of times there are always things to be thankful for, even if we do have to look really hard.
 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

What the Elections Results Mean

The United States presidential election effectively ended today, with media outlets (including the conservative FoxNews) declaring Scranton native Joe Biden to be the next President.  There will be court challenges by the current president, but (so far) they are based on accusations, not facts.  To those that claim "fraud!", I will say this:

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

I personally think the chances of a change in the election results are minimal, at best.  However, if the courts do intervene on the side of the president by changing the election results, it will amount to a judicial coup and this nation will no longer exist as a democracy.  As it stands, the current (for now) administration is leaving this nation stained; let's hope most of that stain can eventually be washed away.

As for how I personally feel about the results, I can think of no one who has said it better than CNN commentator Van Jones.


This is an opportunity.  I hope that the nation can seize it and rise up to our promise.  We're better than what we've been in the past four years.  We need, at a very basic level, to get back to basic human decency, including caring for the least of our brothers and sisters.  We need to move back to a government that serves all of us, not existing simply to serve one man (and his family) in power.  We need the era of the presidential rage-tweet to end and the era of Presidential compassion and service to others to begin.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Election Day 2020

 This pretty much says it all.


Here's to finding ourselves, and the better angels of our nation.


Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Deficit of Decency

 

Next Tuesday, November 3rd, registered voters in the United States have an opportunity to dramatically reduce the most pressing deficit facing our country in decades.

It’s not a trade deficit.

It’s not a budget deficit.

It’s a deficit of decency.  I’m talking about basic, common, old-fashioned human decency.  Decency, as in kindness and compassion for others, even those we disagree with.  Make that “especially those we disagree with”.

The current occupant of the White House presents us with a world-class example of what a lack of decency looks like in actual practice*, for all the world to see:

·         Late night/early morning rage tweets (this alone should be a disqualifier for the presidency)

·         Mocking the disabled at a campaign rally in 2015

·         Lying about others

·         Supporting/promoting completely baseless conspiracy theories

·         Encouraging the actions of right-wing militia and paramilitary groups

·         “Grab’m by the p***y”

·         Using the power of the presidency to proclaim other nations (i.e. non-white nations) as “sh*tholes”

·         Purposefully downplaying the risks of COVID-19 for his own political gain

·         Demeaning other religions (“A total ban on all Muslim immigration…”)

·         Using Christian symbols as tawdry campaign artifacts

·         Failing to disclose his true financial state to the people of the United States, who have a right to know if the president is in personal debt to any foreign powers

·         Failing to divest of personal/financial conflicts of interest

·         Steering taxpayer money to his personal businesses

 …and I could go on.

(*) Of course, the natural retort will be “But Obama…!” or “Hey, he didn’t do most of that stuff!”  In either case, the excuse does not carry water.  Obama did not rage tweet.  Obama did not hide his tax returns from public scrutiny.  What’s more, even if 10 of the 13 items above are actually untrue (which itself is untrue), any of the remaining three disqualifiers from office.

Anyway, this is not right.

This is not normal.

This isn’t “conservatives vs. liberals” or “republicans vs. democrats” …it’s common decency vs. stoking the worst fears of some in our nation purely for the personal power and gain of one individual.  Now I get the fact that, for example, during campaigns the concept of decency sometimes gets pushed to the side, but never in my lifetime has a president directly incorporated that kind of divisive anger into his governing style.  Not even Richard Nixon.  He does this, I suspect, mostly because it is a part of who he is at his very core of a human being.  He can no more stop his indecency than you or I could stop our hearts from beating.

I can say without qualification that this is the most important election of my 56 years on Planet Earth.  For any office.  At any time.  The stakes are not high, they are astronomical.  If allowed a second term in office, the current occupant of the White House will no doubt double-down on his indecency at levels that will make the last four years seem like a Sunday morning prayer circle.

The tweets will get meaner.

The rhetoric will become even more divisive. 

More U.S. allies will be alienated, and more U.S. enemies will be coddled. 

More public money will be steered into his personal businesses.  Oh, and please do compare the donations of his salary to, say, room charges for Secret Service protection at his personal business properties.

He will unabashedly and publicly target those he perceives as his personal enemies using the powers of his office.

The office of the President will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of a man who has failed at business (with 6 business bankruptcies*) and at life (3 marriages). 

I get it:  Joe Biden may not be a perfect alternative to the current occupant of the White House.  He may not be everyone’s first choice to be the presidentBut he is a decent person, and in 2020 that is exactly what this nation needsMore than ever, we just need some shred of simple human decency in the leader of the free world.

If you haven’t already voted, please vote for Joe Biden on November 3rd.  The very soul of our nation depends on his winning this crucial presidential election.

 

(*) Citation HERE


Monday, October 26, 2020

12 Down, A Few More To Go


Tuesday, October 27th is the 12th anniversary of this blog's creation.  You can see the first post, way back in 2008, HERE.  Since then, the blog stats tell me that:

  • 2062 is the number of published posts
  • 112 is the number of draft posts
  • 7,000 is about the average number of page-views I get per month
I'd give you the total number of page views, but the counter wasn't working correctly for the first two years (it was something I did...and I end up re-setting it), but I suspect it's about a million.

In all that time I do think the quality of my writing has improved...practice will do that...even if the quantity of my posts has decreased.  Speaking of quality, some of this stuff I wrote I just can't re-read, as it would honestly be too painful.  That noted, I normally don't take postings down, except when there may be a career consideration for me.  What's in the 112 draft postings is a collection of half-baked ideas and things that, as previously noted, might have upset a potential employer at the moment interviews or such were going on.  I suspect that I could probably re-publish about two-thirds of those draft postings, but that would probably be too much work for too little benefit. 

The above is, well, pretty darn boring to everyone except for me.  But what the heck, it is the blog-o-versary after all.

Probably the more interesting story here is how my life has changed over the past 12 years.  If anything, and in retrospect, one of the things that this blog does is captures little slices of my life.  While a lot of what's written here isn't necessarily about me, it's certainly reflective of me and where I was at that particular time when it wrote it.  In 12 years my life has changed pretty dramatically.  I'd like to tell you that am dramatically happier now, but that wouldn't be entirely true; yes, many of the aspects of my life are dramatically better now, but yet some of the things that drive me haven't changed all that much.  If anything I now understand some of those drivers a bit better.  Actually translating that understanding into action is harder though than it sounds, so let's just say that over the past 12 years "I have met the enemy and he is me".

Going back to the future.

In 2008 it felt as if I could barely breathe as if there were so many things that I was trying to balance all at the same time.  In a way, having so much going on in 2008 created a kind of mental pathway around having to deal with some fundamental problems in my life.  It seems though that some things in life can not be denied forever, and for all intents and purposes, my world imploded around this time in 2010.  "Dark" does not give this time in my life justice.  Yet though, what happened then was necessary.  Even just writing this brings back unhappy feelings into my head.  Gee, thanks blog.

The aftermath of 2010 was a kind of re-orientation of my life.  Make that a messy and sometimes painful re-orientation of my life.  And now I get to look back and see just how much progress has been made since 2008.  In complete honestly, in October 2008 I could never have imagined my life in October 2020.

One of the truisms of life is that things really do happen at the right time, but unfortunately we only get to see...and understand...and feel...that in retrospect.  At no time in my 56.5 years of this Earth is that more true for me than right now.  Number 1 on that list of "things happening at the right time" is my wife, Ms. Rivers.  I wish I could just make up my own word to describe her and what's she done for me (if I did, it would be some big German/Russian/Klingon sounding thing), but I am barely functional in existing English words; adding to the language is too big of a stretch for my abilities.  What I can say is this:  In many ways, she is my hero.  Like most heroes, she has managed to be there just at the nick of time for me, often saving the day and giving me just what I need.  Her heroic powers include a level of calm that is nothing short of awe-inspiring and she also has an almost magical ability to see the good in me, even when I am completely and utterly oblivious to it myself.  Simply put, she believes in more than I do.  She also made me a part of her extended family, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Looking backward at recent history until now, it seems that maybe now I have found a place of relative stability.  Well as stable as life gets in the middle of a pandemic.  Anyway, looking at the next 8 to 10 years to come, what I see is the opportunity to tackle what represents a kind of "final frontier" of my life, a set of learned behaviors and responses that have never served me well, other than power some survival instincts that have out-worn their likely usefulness.  Cryptic enough for you?  How about this:  I now have the opportunity...the time...the breath...the attention...to seek answers to some very fundamental questions about how that "space between my ears" processes the world and drives my actions.  I can work on simply becoming happier.  

As I said, a lot has changed.

Whatever the future holds, I'll no doubt continue to chronicle little pieces of it here.  As always, I do it by and for myself, as this has always been my one truly selfish indulgence over the past 12 years.  And I welcome anyone else who wants to come along on the road (as noted above, to a kind of Shambala*) with me.


(*) Click HERE to find a definition of "Shambala".

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Squirrels Don't Walk In Straight Lines


This isn't a posting about squirrels, although I may get around to that one day.  Instead, file this under "random observation".

October has not always been kind to me, a fact that is noted several times over the past 12 years.  Given that fact, one would think that October 2020 would be particularly horrible.  Or, to paraphrase my sister-in-law, "when does the locust plague start?".  But yet here I am, and so far October has been okay to me.  I started a new job that seems to combine all of what I have been looking for over the past few years:  An organization that does good for the world, a position where I can make a difference, autonomy, and a supportive and enlightened leadership team.  Part of me wants to tread cautiously here, as I don't want to somehow create bad juju for myself.

"When it's good, it's bad"

A trusted advisor (and everyone should have a trusted advisor or three in their life) has told me repeatedly that I am wired for a particular response of "when it's good, it's bad".  This is a shorthand description for someone who grew up always having to look out for the next shoe to drop.  I know, that still kind of nebulous, but outbursts of anger were not an uncommon occurrence in my childhood.  Not by me, mind you.  When that happens, well, you tend to focus less on the "what's good" and more on the "I have to get ready for the next bad".  This isn't all bad by the way; I learned, for example, to develop some very good observational skills.  Trust me though when I say that this is not a good way to run your life, and I have no doubt that decades of heightened anxiety over subconsciously waiting for the bad to inevitably happen probably has taken its toll in a lot of ways.  So be it.  None of us can ever change the past, but we can always learn from it.

So here I am, and maybe, just maybe, as I tiptoe into changing some mental stimulus-response wiring, when it's good it really is good.

There is, by the way, plenty of good to go around.  In addition to a new professional gig, I have a healthy family, adult children that I am exceptionally proud of, a nice place to live, and a spouse that loves me for who I am.  And cats.  I have cats.

Here's to all of us learning, growing, and re-wiring, no matter how old (or young) we find ourselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

189 Days...

 ...is the span of time between leaving my last job and my hopefully last first day at work.  

By way of background, "leaving" sounds a bit like I just left the office and just decided not to come back.  That wasn't the case.  What is the case is that I, like far too many, had my employment negatively effected by COVID-19.  In fact, I think my last departure was as hard on my former VP as it was on me.  Anyway, in the real world things happen, and it's less important to dwell on the past and more important to focus on the here and now.

I am, by the way, going to dwell a bit on the past regardless.  Well, at least selectively.

When I think about my 189 days, a few things come to mind.  Let's start with bare-knuckled emotions.

Frustrating

Anxious

Disheartening

Did I mention Frustrating yet?

(at times) Anger

Disappointment

Apprehensive

I'll note that in the bowels on this blog, years ago, I mentioned before that I am the world's worst unemployed person.  The past 189 days proved that to be true time and time again.  There were some bright spots over those days, including some important house projects getting completed (re-doing our front porch, installing an outside outlet, a ton of landscaping, re-organizing our garage, building some new storage, etc.).  Those were good, but they were not enough.  While I really enjoy working outdoors, it's best as a way for me to get my mind off of other things, not be the primary focus of my mind.  This is in keeping with my almost constant need for stimulation.  

So why all the negativity, as noted above?

The job search process normally tends to be a terrible experience.  Add in millions of new folks looking for work and the inherent disruption of no close contact and you get something of a perfect storm of stink.  It was so bad that I honestly have no desire to go through it again.  Ever again.  Generalizations aside, there are a few very specific things that really make the process of finding a new job pretty terrible, such as when you seem to have a good rapport with a recruiter but then they basically go silent, without any explanation, and stop replying to your messages or returning your calls.  As someone working (again) in Human Resources, I view that as being something that's just not right, and to the extent I have any authority over recruiting, it will never happen under my watch.  Mind you, I don't think that every applicant needs to be acknowledged (the recent college graduate applying for that recently available CFO position, for example), but if someone meets the stated qualifications of a position, they deserve some kind of communication.

* * * * *

I'll digress even further here to relay an actual experience of mine that I consider to be just about the worst of the 189 days:

  • An HR/Learning & Development position was posted by a technology company on a major job board
  • I met all of the stated qualifications
  • I submitted my resume and completed an exhaustive on-line application
  • I received a communication that the company would like me to complete a series of online assessments
  • I think to myself "that's a good sign", and "sure...how long could it possibly take?"
Regarding that last bullet, the answer was 3.5 hours.  The online assessments took three and a half hours of my time.  That, however, was not to be the punchline:

  • I completed all of the exhaustive assessments, covering problem-solving, HR practices, etc.
  • After feeling accomplished at having gone through the process, I gladly hit the final send button
  • I was greeted with a message that basically said...
"Thanks.  We'll let you know if we want to proceed."

What that actually meant was that I spent 3.5 hours and I had no way of following up on the status of my application.  No recruiter to contact.  No company email.  Not even a rejection email.  Just radio silence if I wasn't selected.  That was (and is) both horrible and disrespectful.  Part of me wanted to somehow bill them for the time.  Nothing like asking someone to go above and beyond but yet not having the courtesy to at least tell them "no".  This particular company bills itself as being very selective in who they hire, which is all well and good, but I sincerely hope that they treat their existing employees far, far better than how they treat their employment candidates.

* * * * *

Another example from my 189 days is what I'll call "the sales pitch".  It works something like this:

  • I, like many others, noted on my LinkedIn profile that I was "looking for opportunities".
  • I would get a very friendly message and connection request from another professional.
  • The conversation would start with a lot of sympathy for my plight and plenty of questions about my background and how my search was going.
  • After a few days, the sales pitch would always come.
The "sales pitch" inevitably had to do with either a sales position or a franchise opportunity.  Mind you there is nothing in my LinkedIn profile that actually gave any indication that I was interested in sales or franchise opportunities.  For the record, I have nothing against either career avenue.  What I do have a problem with is the insincerity on display to myself (and countless others) that was really nothing more than a lead-in gimmick. 

In addition to the standard "sales pitch", I also experienced two variations:

  • The Handoff - This is when you get a message from an executive who contacts you (per above), says nice things about your background, and then tells you that he's going to forward your name to his spouse/partner/etc. who may have an opening for you.  There may even be a check-in where this individual follows up with you to see if their spouse/partner/etc. has gotten back to you yet (they haven't...yet...but that's part of the plan I suspect).  You do hear from the spouse/partner/etc. after a few weeks and after an exchange of pleasantries, they talk to you about their company.  Feeling a bit suspicious and wondering why you aren't hearing any specifics about the job opportunity itself, you start to ask detailed questions, discovering that they are looking for...wait for it...salespeople.  
  • The Helping Hand - This is when you get an out-of-the-blue message from someone working for a well-known company saying they know how hard the job market is and that they'd like to forward your name to a recruiter they know.  You don't hear from the recruiter, but you do hear from the original person, who pledges to follow-up with their recruiter friend.  Eventually, the follow-up conversations steer towards the financial services product they want to sell you.  In my particular instance, the "kicker" was the fact that the last follow-up message I got from this individual made two very big mistakes.  The first?  Never refer to me by just by my last name ("Albert, this is...") in a voicemail message.  The second?  At least try to remember some of what I told you in prior conversations.
These experiences were (and are for others on an on-going basis) disheartening.  If you are trying to recruit salespeople or sell a franchise opportunity, please be upfront about it.  Feigning concern as a lead-in to a pitch is just a terrible thing to do in times like this.

* * * * *

Hopefully, by now the picture of just how jarring this process has been for me has been painted.  As someone who values control, this was one of the most out of my control periods in my life.  What I could control was the process by which I looked for a job, and I did my best to be disciplined about the whole thing.  That attempt at a disciplined approach resulted in my making 72 different employment applications.  The breakdown by the source of the lead is as follows:


The sometimes brutal realities of a 2020 job search noted, there were plenty of positives to my 189 days, none the least of which is how my job search ended.  To really explain that, I need to go back to the year 1999.  It was in later 1999 when I decided that my career needed something of a change.  I was successful at what I was doing as a Customer Service Team manager, but the work itself just didn't seem to be all that important to me.  Working for a large company, I was able to find another role, in Human Resources, managing a Training and Development team.  Fast forward a few years from then and I basically decided that this (Human Resources) was going to be where I "hung my hat" for the rest of my professional life.  That kind of commitment sounds nice, but in reality, it was less a visionary statement and more a kind of messy battle plan that took years to bear any fruit.

This is the part where I am supposed to have the pithy statement about the power of perseverance, but I'm not going to do that, as there were many times when I wondered just what in the heck I was actually doing.  What looks like in hindsight a "well-orchestrated plan" was actually neither well-orchestrated nor much of a plan.  Instead, I just tried to string things together with what I had to work with, plus a lot of work.      

Anyway, the messiness of the past duly noted, I've landed in a place where my imagination years ago though I should be.  Like most things in my life though, the path between the past and future wasn't exactly a straight line.  Maybe one day I will truly appreciate that fact.

My "not exactly a straight line" career progression couldn't have happened without people who supported me, in big ways and in small.  Every check-in and every word of encouragement meant more to me than I can adequately describe.  So too did every job lead, as regardless of whether or not it panned out it was still a vote of confidence in me.  My biggest cheerleader was my wife, Ms. Rivers, who also benefitted during my 189 days via the frequent runs to Dunkin Donuts for a small iced coffee with two cream and one Splenda as well as the twice a week lunch of (the famous but frozen) Victory Pig pizza.  I'll miss both myself by the way.

So now I've come to the end of this posting.  I am supposed to say, I think, that this is not an end but "is a beginning".  All well and good, but the reality is there always was "a beginning" in play anyway.  Maybe a smarter or more insightful person might seek some kind of deeper meaning in all of this; as for me, I'm just relieved.  And I'll leave it at that.


(*) For the truly (or mildly) curious, you can always check out my LinkedIn profile for more about the professional me.

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.