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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.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Unqualified

I am unqualified to speak (or write) with any authority about what's going on in our country after the public killing of George Floyd.  At best, I do know what it's like to see a family member die, but not while begging for their life.  I also have no clue as to what it's like to fear for my own life just by virtue of what I happen to look like.

What I plan doing for now is listening, reading, becoming more informed.  I'll also take action where/when it makes sense and can actually help.  Again, at least for now.  One on-going lesson of the year 2020 is that we may all be called upon to do extraordinary things.

What do I know?  What am I qualified to speak/write about?

  • I know what it's like to be poor.  While racism is probably the biggest un-removed stain on our nation, second is institutionalized poverty.  Too many suffer at the hands of both; is there a wonder why so many seem so desperate?
  • I know that I can't look into the heart of the current president of the United States*, so whether or not he is a racist is beyond what I can tell.  I do know this though...he tolerates racism ("...had some very fine people on both sides...")...and his words/actions provide a kind of lubrication for racists, white nationalists, etc.  He needs to be the leader of the entire country, not just the leader of his supporters.
  • I know that the president of the United States has not publicly addressed the nation with empathy about the killing of George Floyd.  Instead he relies on Twitter, mostly, I suspect, because it's easy for him and provides a kind of air-cover to be outrageous.  In times of crisis, we need leaders to be up front and actually lead, not hide behind a cellphone screen, throw social media bombs or speak though a paid spokesperson (press secretary).
  • I know that in desperation people will sometimes act out of character.  The solution is to address the underlying cause of their desperation.

That's it.  We need to do better.  The first step is to hold people in positions of power accountable, from the top down.

#8645



(*) As I may have noted before, but which I'll mention again, I'm not going to publicize a brand name here.  Period.  

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 74 (Finalem Edition)


Yesterday, my county of residence in Pennsylvania, Luzerne, moves to what they are calling "yellow" status, meaning that the most stringent of the COVID-19 precautions are being eased.  Among other things, outside dining at restaurants will be allowed.  For the record, I'll note that I hate eating outside.  Anyway, while some things will not be allowed until the next status (green) is reached, such as hair-cutting places, it's good to know that progress is being made.  I know we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to this whole nasty business, and things will likely get bad again, it's worth celebrating the fact that at least some of the prior normal will be returning.


None of the above is intended to diminish what's happened by the way.  With over (at least) 100,000 casualties from COVID-19, it's hard to comprehend the damage all of this has done to our collective selves.  Like a deep physical wound, there will be scar tissue even after this has healed.  One of the worst scars will be the realization that, for some folks at least, self-interest supersedes everything else, including caring for others.  I refer specifically to those who continue to refuse to wear masks while out in public.  No doubt some of those folks call themselves Christians, full well forgetting the following:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, verses 36 to 40)

It's worth noting that there is no carve-out to the above for "unless I feel like it infringes on my personal sense of freedom".  I got to see this on full display at the supermarket a few days ago, when a shopper complained loudly about having to wear a face mask.  I wonder if that same "gentleman" also complained about his "personal freedom" being taken away because he was also required to wear a shirt and shoes while in the store?

As you can probably tell, I have...


...sympathy for folks such as this. 

In any event, here's to the hope that some of those who lost their jobs find new work and those who are suffering from depression and other illnesses resulting from the lock-down begin to find relief.  Let's also continue to be careful out there.



Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 64 (In Memoriam Edition)


Here's a basic & a timely lesson in Science:
Let's suppose, very unfortunately, that your doctor diagnoses you with having cancer.  Let's also suppose that you have unlimited financial resources.  Based on those unlimited resources, you are able to see 99 other doctors for a second (and third...up to 99th) opinion.  In all of those 100 diagnoses, 98 of the doctors said that you do, in fact, have cancer.  Two doctors, one of whom is not a specialist, by the way, said that you do not have cancer.  The question is this:  At the end of all of this, do you now think that you have cancer and will you seek out appropriate treatment?

Science is about coming up with a hypothesis (i.e. you have cancer) based upon the preponderance of the evidence (i.e. data from medical test results).  That hypothesis then stands up to scrutiny and is either validated or proven wrong...again...based upon the preponderance of evidence/data.  Not faith.  Not the opinion of a politician or his enablers.

The moral is this:  If in doubt about something related to biology (or climatology, or astronomy, etc.), look for what consensus of what science tells you.  Ignore fringe opinions.  And certainly ignore the opinions of those who are not experts, most especially those who are politicians or media talking heads.

* * * * * *

The lilacs are in bloom, including the two small bushes I planted last Spring.



My mother loved lilacs, and I have to confess that I am rather fond of them myself.  Lilacs are interesting plants in that they are very slow-growing, they can be very long-lived and for the most part pretty damn unimpressive as far as bushes go.  Yet, those two or so weeks in mid-spring when they are in bloom, they are the kings of the plant world.  Sometimes a single grand gesture can make up for a year's worth of mediocrity.

* * * * * *

(My brother in his natural habitat...the kitchen)

Today would have been my brother Chris's 55th birthday.  To honor him on this day, I'll talk about some of his very human qualities.

First, Chris was well-read.  Like me, he wasn't all that interested in fiction (unless you include the border-line fictional writings of Ann Coulter), but he devoured biographies, especially about musicians.  He also loved the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe.  There were more than a few books we traded over the years.  In fact, the last gift I got for Chris was I Am Brian Wilson.

Second, Chris was tidy.  Another trait we had in common, absolutely the result of how we were raised, was the fact that he was very neat and tidy.  Wherever he lived, the place was always well taken care of, including (and especially) the kitchen, where he loved spending time.

Third, Chris loved to cook.  I have little interest in food for the most part; I don't like to cook and my tastes tend to run in the simple/boring.  Chris, on the other hand, just loved cooking and eating different things.  He shared the later with my older brother Rich, who will basically eat just about anything once.  No matter what he was actually doing to earn a living, he almost always had a cooking side-job.

Fourth, Chris was very good-hearted.  While he was quick with what could be some insensitive humor (see "Finally, ..."), in reality, Chris had no time for racists, racism, bigots, or anything else of that same ilk.  This is one of the reasons why I firmly believe that this often-spouted love for some political conservatives was actually more about theater (and cheesing off our mother) than anything else.

Fifth, Chris was the only one of us with any shred of athletic ability.  While I played a little bit of basketball, in reality, I have little in the way of natural athletic ability.  Chris, on the other hand, was both a runner and an amateur boxer.  I could tell when life was getting the better of Chris as he stopped running, something that he truly enjoyed.

Sixth, Chris was very thrifty.  I think part of that was also a reaction who how we were raised.  Regardless, it was sometimes almost comical in its application.  For example, the first new car he ever owned was a completely generic small economy vehicle.  No air conditioning.  Crank windows.  A standard transmission (Chris preferred standards; I can barely drive one).  AM radio.  I don't think the thing even had carpeting.

Seventh, Chris loved music.  His tastes in music generally were more bent towards the blues and jazz, with some Rolling Stones and The Doors thrown in for good measure.  My musical tastes, on the other hand, are nowhere near as diverse as his.

Eighth, Chis was incredibly gregarious.  Chris could literally walk up and talk to just about anyone.  For the most part, that's not something I enjoy doing.  Yes, Chris naturally was outgoing and engaging.  So many times in my life I wish I would have had that talent.

Finally, Chris had a wickedly funny sense of humor.  While we disagreed on many things in life, we absolutely shared a very similar sense of humor, with a good portion of it being (mostly) offensive.  There was this element of shock in humor that he enjoyed, including seeing the reaction of someone to something he would say.  Here are just a few examples:
  • The first words he ever said to my (now) wife Chris involved a midget porn joke.
  • He's the first person I've ever heard actually using the term GILF.  And no, I will not define that, for the record.
  • His ability to perfectly time a wholly inappropriate reference to the movie Children of the Corn.  It didn't matter that he (and myself) were just about the only ones who actually got the joke.  Like most naturally funny people, for the most part, it was all just about entertaining himself...the rest of us where just along for the ride.  He had similar "movie drops" for A Clockwork Orange and The Naked Civil Servant.  

Happy Birthday on the Other Side my brother.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 59 (Squirrels & Greed Edition)

(The above is not open to debate, at least with me)

I don't see ditching the mask any time soon.  In fact, I just ordered something to use while hiking/outdoor work.  Yes, I get that they are a pain in the rear-end.  Do you want to know what would be a bigger pain in the rear-end?  The knowledge that I may have inadvertently contributed to someone else getting sick.  It's the kind of small sacrifice thing that Americans used to be really good at, a long time ago, before the "Greed is Good" era came about.

The squirrels keep eating.


I love having a bird feeder, and surprisingly, I love having squirrels around as well.  Granted that I've already noted the cold war that exists between myself and the squirrels relative to the bird feeder.  The last escalation when the squirrels deployed swing technology to empty the feeder.  What, may you ask, is "swing technology"?  Well, since they can not get to the feeder directly, they figured out that they can get on top of the feeder and swing it enough such that seed spills onto the ground.  They did this so much that the feeder contents completely emptied in about two days (normally the feeder, sans squirrel tech, lasts about a week).  I'm still pondering my response to swing tech.

As a side note, I still feed the squirrels peanuts every morning. They do need a balanced diet after all, and peanuts are high in protein.  Besides, there is nothing quite as adorable as a squirrel picking up a shelled peanut in its little hands.  For the most part, what they do is pick the shelled peanut up, inspect it for a moment, put it in their little squirrel mouth, and then frolic away somewhere to eat the peanut in peace.

Why am I even mentioning this?

I guess I see something of a larger lesson in squirrels.  Like people, they can be a pain in the rear-end, but yet what they do (unlike people, at least sometimes) isn't malicious.  Squirrels raid bird-feeders...that's what they do.  It's in their nature.  In fact, something would be wrong if they weren't continuously trying to raid the bird-feeder.  They don't take the birdseed because they simply want to acquire and horde lots of stuff...unlike people...they do it because they need the food.  There are times when I have a lot more sympathy for the squirrels in my backyard than I do some of the people I read about in the news.  Greed is not, in fact, good.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 53 (Some Good News edition)


The brave new world continues, although, as previously noted, I do see change coming.  I honestly and sincerely hope that we end up in a better place after the worst of this has concluded.  I mean that in the most macro of senses, as I know that for some, the recovery here will be long and painful.  Think of your local small business that has so far been forced to close.

Here's some of the good that I think will come out of the pandemic:
  • Work - A greater appreciation for the value of work, particularly on the front-lines of the economy.  Millionaires and billionaires may be insulated from many of the mundane things of life, but they still need people working at their businesses and supplying the food they ultimately have to eat.  These front-line folks need to be better valued by our economy.
  • Compassion - COVID-19 doesn't care if you are an immigrant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim a progressive, or conservative.  At a very basic level neither should you or I.  This whole festering mess proves that we need compassion more than ever.  Speaking of compassion, the video from (former) President George W. Bush is a terrific example of it in the public arena. While I didn't agree with many of his policies, I never doubted for a moment that President Bush is a good man.
  
  • Truth - While many of our fellow citizens easily get caught up in various conspiracy theories and "latest thing" YouTube videos, in the end, COVID-19 is pretty much gas-lighting proof.  Even if someone does, for reasons that escape me, believe this whole thing is a hoax, sadly (I will add) the point will come when a friend/family member will come down with the disease.  At that point the conversion back to reality will be complete.
  • Healthcare - I honestly hope that on the backside of the current situation will come a renewed discussion about the necessity of universal healthcare in the United States.  We can't be the "greatest nation on Earth" while simultaneously rationing healthcare based upon the ability to pay.  We're better than that, and no one should ever have to declare bankruptcy because they couldn't pay their medical bills.  
  • Family - Having families "stuck together" isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I see more families walking together in my small town now than I ever did before.  I hope that continues.
  • Small Businesses - Another hope is that people will better appreciate the value of small businesses and do everything they can to support them once the economy opens up.  Shareholders don't care about you and me; your family-owned local hardware store does.
Speaking of good news, actor John Krasinski has been putting on a weekly YouTube show called
SGN (Some Good News).  You can find all of them HERE at his YouTube channel.  The latest installment is noted directly below.


Watching these videos gives me hope for the future.

On a more local level (really as local as it can get, seeing as though the following is pretty much all in my head), having more time at home does have it's ups and downs.  Seeing as though this is the "Some Good News" edition of Exile on Corona Street, here's part of what I've been up to.
  • Professional Stuff - Not much I want to report here, other than I'm working the whole job search endeavor.  Eventually, there will be some good news.
  • Learning - I've been fascinated by the whole Sovereign Citizen movement, so I've spent a few hours learning about the beliefs of this sub-set of our collective culture.  This includes listening to courtroom records of Sovereign Citizens during hearings and trials.  The fervency of these individuals reminds me a lot of Scientology (something else I've studied over the years), all be it without the organizational structure and Hollywood celebrities.  
  • Home (Inside) - I finally got around to organizing an odd lot of old documents.  I am, admittedly, something of an organization nut; I have 30 years of my professional life organized into binders, as well as personal financial and other things.  In an odd sort of way it makes me feel better.  I'll also confess to being probably in that 1% of adult males who actually has his own scrapbook.
  • Home (Outside) - There has been some planting already, including two honeysuckle plants in our backyard that, in a year or so, will hopefully make the space smell really, really nice.  We're also working on having our rear parking area re-graveled, we're planting a small garden this year and I am finishing the last section of covering for our front porch.  One of these days I need to organize the garage.
  • Technology - Given the fact that remote work will likely be a thing for many in the months and years to come, I've upgraded some of my home office technology.  This includes adding a dual-monitor set-up, an HD webcam, and a Blue Nessie microphone, which we will be testing during a Zoom meeting tomorrow morning.  I've also finally gotten around to installing an exterior digital antenna for my office television.  So far I'm only getting 5 local stations (2 WNEP, 3 WVIA), but I've set it up so that I can re-locate it for better reception.  
There are other things going on as well, but at this stage, the above is enough.  Hopefully any and everyone reading this is also using their new-found home time to make some improvements...of their residence, intellect, etc.

On that note, I'm going to call this posting concluded.  Please do be careful out there.


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 47 (& the Importance of Mental Health)

Go to this site for the above-referenced support =>  https://www.covidmentalhealthsupport.org/

It's almost hard to fathom the toll that this whole pandemic mess is having; while we are bombarded with stories related to the physical health of COVID-19 patients, it's easy to forget the emotional toll these days are taking on so many.  I hold myself fortunate in that regard, as I am doing decidedly okay.  I will note though that (as James Taylor sang), I've seen my share of "fire and rain".  Regardless, I do think that once we are out of crisis mode, there will be an even greater need for mental health support by many.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a real thing, and sometimes it doesn't manifest itself until years after the event.  You can learn more about PTSD by clicking HERE.

Changing gears, well kind of, I was in the shower on Wednesday morning and as I turned on the radio, this song was playing:


I don't consider myself a big fan of the whole Southern Rock genre, but I have been known to enjoy some "Skynyrd" from time to time.  In fact, I've probably heard this particular song a hundred or so times, but it wasn't until Wednesday that I really heard the following lyric:

Oo-oo that smell, 
can't you smell that smell?
Oo-oo that smell, 
the smell of death's around you

Not only did I hear the words, but I understood them, maybe for the first time.  



As I am in the shower, radio blaring (Ms. River was already up, being productive as part of her work from the home gig), that line is sung and almost immediately my mind is brought back to late morning on January 5, 2017.  That's when I went to my brother Chris' house to check up on him, at the urging of his boss at the Office of Mine Safety and Health Administration, who had called me with a worried tone to his voice.  Side note:  When you are on a first-name basis with your brother's boss, well, it's usually not a good sign.  Anyway, I was eating a late breakfast/early lunch at Denny's after having spent an hour or so at the gym.  At the time, I was still looking for a new job with few prospects in the pipeline, so part of my daily routine was getting up, putting my to-do list together for the day, checking the job boards, and heading over to the gym.  Anyway, I headed up to Scranton to check on Chris.

By the way, I'm sure I've recounted most of this story before, so I'll apologize in advance for any redundancy.

Arriving at Chris' house in Scranton (I had already tried to call him multiple times), I knocked on the front door to no avail.  Luckily for me, well if you want to call it "luck", the front door was unlocked.  That led me to open the front door, where three things hit me immediately:
  1. I could hear the radio playing upstairs.
  2. I was an icebox in the house, even colder inside than out (it was in the teens that morning).
  3. "That smell"*.
There was no power in the house, and as a result, there was no heat.  The radio that was playing was apparently running on batteries.  As I called for him to no avail, I almost instinctively went upstairs.  Part of the reason why I didn't look around on the first floor, which I now realize, was the smell...I just wanted to find him, make sure he was okay, and then leave.  The smell was over-powering and hung in the stillness of the cold air like a blanket, smothering everything it came in contact with, including me.

I did find Chris, laying across the top of his bed, face down, his face facing the floor.  I was fortunate in that the room was relatively dark, so I didn't see some of what was in the room, including what Chris went through prior to passing away.  I found out it was a somewhat gruesome scene.  About two weeks later, the Lackawanna County Corner's Office confirmed that he had likely died a minimum least 12 hours beforehand, based in part on the fact that his body had been frozen solid when I came upon him.  There's some contention as to the circumstances of his death; while I had a conversation with a detective in the Scranton Police Department a day or so after finding Chris, noting some suspicions on my part (Chris' daughter had similar suspicions), nothing further was said or done in that area.  Part of me thinks that's just as well.  A saving grace in all of this was the fact that I alone found Chris, saving others the trauma...including having to deal with the "smell of death's around you".


As noted above, I've already written about these events before; details can be found in the archive on this blog (see January 2017).  Part of me feels uneasy recounting these details now, but given the circumstances at hand, I think it's somehow important I speak to my experience in dealing with emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress.  Had someone told me 10 years ago that I would end up personally dealing with PTSD, I would have told them that it was ridiculous, that such things were, for example, what returning soldiers had to face.  It's not.  While I don't dwell on the events of January 5, 2017, very often, just thinking about it in order to write this posting brings back memories of that smell...and the feeling under my fingers of his frozen body as I tried to wake him (that feeling...one of both softness and hardness, is unforgettable).  There isn't a day that goes by though when I don't think about Chris though.  


Bring this monologue full-circle, I know from (the above) experience that there is no shame in seeking help, especially during trying times.  And these are trying times for many.  Trauma isn't something that is easily measured or compared.  I can't say "well my finding my brother dead is worse than you losing your job", mostly because that may not, in fact, be true.  What is true is that we have an absolute obligation to ourselves and our loved ones to take care of our mental health.  We only get one shot at this life thing, and that shot is far too short to ignore problems that can be effectively treated.  


Oh, and lastly, let's be careful out there.



(*) At the time, there were easily had 30+ open cans of honey lager beer in the house, so if I had to describe the "smell of death" it would include a reference to something with alcohol that is sickeningly sweet.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 42


Day 42 of this quasi-documentation, and while I have little hard evidence to support the following point, I'll make it anyway:  It "feels" like things are getting better.  At best, well, maybe I'm right.  At worst?  Well, I'll gladly accept criticism for unwarranted optimism, as the converse is a place I've been to in my past and I have no desire to return.  In the end, we only get so much time here, so it's best to make the very best of it.

The above isn't designed to diminish the craziness that many are experiencing these days.  I was just talking to Ms. Rivers about how much this is wearing on her, being a full-time home-based worker now (considered essential by her employer).  I get that by the way, although my experience as someone in the job market now is certainly different than her experience.  Of course, there is the obvious to that last point, namely that I have more discretion as to how I use my time.  Discretion being a keyword in that last sentence.  Prior to having lost a job, a was under the uneducated opinion that the full-time job of someone who is out of work should be finding new work.  Experience teaches me that this is not entirely true, as (at least for some professions) it's simply not possible to job-search full time unless you are in a very large employment market.  There just isn't that much under your control.  Part of this whole thing of finding a new position is luck, all be it one sufficiently lubricated by hard-work.


As for the specifics of my current situation, well, I'm lucky (there's that word again) in that I have one or two things that might pan out for me.  I take nothing for granted, by the way, and if I do land something over the next two months or so, well, it will be a blessing.

Speaking of blessings, I was thinking yesterday about how these transition times in our lives have a purpose.  They are here to teach us things that can only be fully understood in the past tense.  Sometimes the profundity of a situation would be too much to bear if we even could understand it in real-time.  Best to just try and experience things as they come, and save the analysis for another time.

Being a creature of routine, I enjoy having tasks to perform.  One such temporary tasks came in the form of one the many "Facebook Challenge" whereby you list the 20 albums that have influenced your musical taste the most.  For those not on the Facebooks (i.e. Ms. Rivers, although I'm working on that...), here's my list:
  • Day 1 - John Cougar Mellencamp: Scarecrow 
  • Day 2 - U2: The Unforgettable Fire 
  • Day 3 - Prince and the Revolution:  Purple Rain
  • Day 4 - West Side Story:  Soundtrack
  • Day 5 - Harry Nilsson:  Greatest Hits
  • Day 6 - Genesis:  Duke
  • Day 7 - The Beatles:  The While Album
  • Day 8 - David Gates:  The Goodbye Girl
  • Day 9 - Supertramp:  Breakfast in America
  • Day 10 - Tears for Fears:  Songs from the Big Chair
  • Day 11 - John Lennon:  Shaved Fish
  • Day 12 - ABBA:  The Album
  • Day 13 - The Traveling Wilburys:  Volume 1
  • Day 14 - The Rolling Stones:  Made in the Shade
  • Day 15 - Warren Zevon:  Excitable Boy
  • Day 16 - Squeeze:  Greatest Hits
  • Day 17 - Blondie:  Parallel Lines
  • Day 18 - Paul McCartney and Wings: Band on the Run 
  • Day 19 - The Pretenders: Learning to Crawl  
  • Day 20 - The Beatles:  Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Bank
I know, that's hardly a diverse list, but it has the benefit of being honest.  I could have listed a few more, but as it stands it's a good list, and I enjoyed putting it together.  What's not on the list?  Heavy Metal...as in I just don't enjoy it.  Classical...there is a lot of some stuff I like, but it's hard to put that into a single album.  Country...outside of Johnny Cash and an occasional dose of Vince Gill, well, it doesn't do much for me.  Rap/Hip-Hop...not my thing (obviously).  Punk...I like *real* punk, as in the Sex Pistols, Iggy and the Stooges, etc.; not what some call punk now, i.e. Green Day.  As a side note, calling Green Day a "Punk" bad is a bit like calling No Doubt a Ska band (it isn't; see The Specials, Madness, etc. for the real thing).  Just my opinion.

On that note, I have a better posting in the works, well as long as you consider more serious to be better.  Time to go.

Oh, and hey, let's be careful out there.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 33


In news of the COVID-19 kind, it appears that we may have misunderstood how many, and how severe, the outbreak has been.  Article links HERE and HERE.  I can, by the way, already hear the anti-science crowd shrieking "See!  So much for your Science!", which in and of itself is a great example of ignorance at its finest.   Science is inherently an iterative process, whereby ideas are continuously tested and theories changed as a result of new information.  As for the absolutes that some folks pedal, well...


This is not to say that this whole thing isn't stressful, and we know that sometimes prolonged stress leads to bad decisions and ideas.  Speaking of stress:

(The ironic part:  I been doing three of these things all along.  Other tips HERE.)

Another way I try to minimize stress in my life:  I keep a "To Do" list, diligently, I might add.  It's right on my desk, directly to the left of my keyboard.  It's important to note that the value of the list, at least for me, isn't in the idea that I get massive amounts of things done, although that's certainly a secondary benefit.  No, the value of the list for me is in the idea that I have a list in the first place.  I have a mind that tends to ramble about here and about, so having a list creates something of an anchor for me, a way to focus a bit more, a way to create order out of what would be some sloth-y chaos.  In essence, the value of the list that it simply exists.  Kind of like a cat 😸.

One thing that I didn't have on my list for the weekend (I tend to have a single list for Saturday and Sunday) was to go through the massive store of old papers I kept in the attic.  It amounted to about three plastic tubs-o-stuff, some of which went back to the mid-'80s.  Since yesterday afternoon was cold, wet and generally not all that Spring-like, I decided to make an ad-hoc addition to my list and tackle the store.  The results?
  • Three tubs of storage stuff reduced to one tub of storage stuff.
  • Three large garbage bags of shredded paper, badly degraded binders and "why did I ever keep this?" paperwork.
  • Three bins of paper to recycle.
  • A shredder that was screaming for relief.
  • A few surprises (see below) in terms of things I found that I'm going to keep.
Some of this stuff may actually be helpful (i.e. samples of past work), others are just simply nice to have, such as the hand-drawn picture of my old, red, Ford Ranger, courtesy of my (now older) daughters.  Still, others are just neat markers, if you will, of days gone past.  The older we get, the more we have a tendency to forget the richness of our lives in the past (that's a fancy way of saying that we/I forget things).

Philosophy noted it's time to get some other things done before calling it a night.  A kind of/sort of Monday awaits tomorrow.  Just remember, let's be careful out there.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 32


I choose the graphic in part because of the reference to Dr. Levine.  Some of the article commentaries I've read about Dr. Levine has been utterly horrible.  Pro-tip:  Anyone who isn't sure as to what pronoun to use in reference to Dr. Levine can simply say "Dr. Levine".  That's not so hard, now is it?  For the record, she has been doing an outstanding job during the pandemic.

The above noted, time to throw some randomness into the blog-o-sphere.

* * * * *

Music
I have no musical abilities.  I can not sing well at all.  I had Band in junior high school but reading music just didn't seem to work for me; I think that the underlying concepts were just so alien to how my mind works that it was doomed from the start.  The prior three points noted, I love music.  As I've noted in other blog postings over the years, I almost always have kind of tune in my head.  In fact, sometimes these songs are basically a kind of soundtrack to what I am going through at any given time in my life.  As I think about now, well, this is the soundtrack song that's in my head.


The sentiment seems somehow fitting.  

Prognostications
Regardless of when the worst of the pandemic is over, the world will be different than what we had before all of this started.
  • Social Distancing - I don't see everyone going back to the pre-social distancing ways of being out in public, at least not for most of this year.  
  • Masks - That American sense of bewilderment at certain Asian countries where folks regularly wear surgical masks in public?  It won't be so bewildering anymore.  
  • Consumption - Having all of this time at home may just change consumption habits.  The notion of going out shopping as a form of leisure activity may give way to viewing it as more of a necessity. 
  • Delivery - Some folks are just going to get firmly addicted to home delivery, be it from restaurants, groceries or other things.  
  • Retail Apocalypse - Sadly, this is going to hasten the demise of Sears/Kmart (what's left of it) and push JC Penny's over the edge as well.  The good news?  This is going to create opportunities for smaller/new companies to fill the void.
  • Healthcare - Nothing like a pandemic to get people to realize that healthcare is not a privilege, it's a right, and it's ridiculous that it is currently rationed in this country*.  As it stands, people are going to grow even more impatient with the current state of American healthcare, which is a good thing.
  • Employment - A few companies will come out of this looking very good, regardless of industry.  What will separate the heroes from the rest will be how leaders viewed on-going employment as an organizational imperative.  
  • Organized Religion - Not going to church is becoming a habit for many that will continue after the doors re-open.  For some, it may be the luxury of sleeping in on a Sunday.  For others, it may be the very idea that "well gee, God did not strike down all those times I didn't go". 

Closer to Home
On my (personal) end, the work related to finding a new job continues.  There are a few opportunities out there, but this is a strange time to be in the job market.  As I may have noted before, I genuinely feel bad for people have lost their jobs on the basic skills end of the employment spectrum.  I'm sure I will eventually get something; worst case I'll end up doing something completely different.

None of the above means that I am immune to the stress of my situation and the pandemic environment.  In fact, I've had trouble sleeping past 5am, since I am not as active as I should be I have more aches than I should at my age, and I'm struggling to keep a productive daily routine**.  As it stands, the days are just kind of melting into each other.  My saving grace here is that Ms. Rivers is keeping a regular work schedule, so at least there is some way for me to differentiate, say, Tuesday from Saturday.

On the good news front, the days are promising to get warmer, which means that I'll have more opportunities to work outside (we're going to plant a small garden this year & I have a few outdoor projects to complete) and get some cycling time under my belt.  I just have to wait for it to stop, for example, snowing.

That's about it for now...and hey...let's be careful out there.

* * * * *

(*) Healthcare is rationed in the United States, based on ability to pay.  The wealthy can afford the best healthcare in the world in this country; the poor?  Not so much.  One of many, many citations HERE.  

(**) Spoken from experience:  One of the worst parts of finding a new job is the waiting between things you need to do as part of the process.