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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 15

(Some Sound Advice)

It's Day 15 and there is no sign that the pandemic crisis is going to let up any time soon.  While that's far from good news, the reality is that fortunately, the fatality rate for Covid-19 is still relatively low in the United States, at about 1.96%.  Granted that any fatality is bad, especially when it is someone we know.  At this stage though, we need to hang onto any bit of hope we can get.

On a related note, it does appear that the fatality rate varies wildly between states in this country.  For example (all data from THIS site, as of 4:45pm on March 31, 2020):
Louisiana:  4.6%
Georgia:  3.4%
Michigan:  2.8%
Mississippi:  2.1%
New York:  2.0%
Texas:  1.5%
Connecticut:  1.4%
Florida:  1.4%
New Jersey:  1.2%
Pennsylvania:  1.2%
Massachusetts:  1.0%

When the dust settles on this truly sad period in our country's history, two things will become self-evident about the fatality rate:
  1. Adjusting for age, the poor will be far more likely to die from Covid-19.
  2. Access to quality healthcare is more of a challenge in the southern United States.
Both points have a common underlying thread, namely that healthcare in the United States is rationed based upon the ability to pay.  Then again, this isn't necessarily "new" news; if anything the pandemic will simply amplify what some have realized for a long time.

* * * * *

In addition to watching Covid-19 march through the United States like Sherman through Georgia, I'm also been busy with the business of career stuff.  Finding my next...and hopefully, stop is going to be a bit of a challenge in the current environment, but I've not always been known for doing things the easy way.  At this point, I've got my resume spruced up, I've re-introduced myself to most of the job boards and I'm looking at opportunities for networking.  I'm also being a realist in that this could be a long haul.  Something could also happen for me quickly as well.  I just don't know (and hold that thought).

Looking back, I've already been through what I'll call "Layoff Bootcamp" when I was retired at the end of 2016 after nearly 28 years with the same employer.  Calling that time difficult is a bit of an understatement.  One thing that I learned from that experience though is that, at least for me, my expectations are probably the biggest hurdle I'll face.  I don't know what will happen, and that is disconcerting.  Especially for me.  I don't however, have much of a choice in this matter.  In fact, the only thing I do have the ability to make a choice resides with my attitude.  That sounds too much like a bad Pinterest graphic, I know, and I concede right now that I will be failing from time to time to choose a positive, productive attitude.  Another thing I learned though from the end of 2016 though is that choosing a positive attitude is something I need to do for me.  The alternative just isn't much fun, especially these days.

Let's be careful out there.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 12


Effective yesterday (Friday, March 27th), the governor of Pennsylvania issued a "Stay At Home" order for Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.  Details can be found HERE.  From a practical standpoint, it really doesn't change much for me or Ms. Rivers, as we were pretty much just staying home anyway.  The hope is though that more folks will be more cautious in the days and weeks to come.

I get, by the way, how difficult this is for many.  Heck, I don't like to socialize, but even I am starting to get some cabin fever.  The reality though is that the alternative is worse.

In terms of where Pennsylvania is at this point (7:15pm on Saturday, March 28th), there have been 28,005 residents tested for Covid-19, of which 25,254 have had negative results (90.2%) and 2,751 (or 9.8%) have had a positive result.  There have been 34 fatalities attributed to Covid-19, make the death rate 1.2%.  Current numbers can be found HERE.  I mention this not out of some morbid curiosity, but rather to (at least for me) put this in perspective:  While this is terrible...and we need to do everything possible to end this as soon as possible...the infection rate is still relatively low.  Assuming that the total number of cases (28,005) is dramatically understated and that the real number is actually triple that (84,015), the infection rate in the general population would stand at 0.6%*.  AGAIN, my point isn't that "this is a very low number, therefore we don't have to worry about it"...instead, it's "this is a low number, so if we act now, we can potentially save a lot of lives".

The above noted, any life lost to this is a tragedy.  For example, I learned last night that one of the people who hired me at Prudential in 1988, and who was my first Director, recently passed away as a result of the pandemic.  Augie (August) A. Urgola, was one of a kind individual.  I could spend the next 5,000 words telling "Augie Stories", but I'll just list two:
  • First - It was 1990 (or so) and one of my clients was laying off a ton of people.  I was talking to Augie about it, and he said in complete sincerity, once the business side of our conversation was over, that it (laying off people) was terrible and that one of the things companies are supposed to do is employ people.  I was 26 years old at the time, and that perspective has stayed with me all these years later.  I've thought about that conversation every time I was laying people off or getting laid off myself**.  This was Augie's simple but profound wisdom at work.
  • Second - It was 2012 (or so) and I was a Director in HR, conducting some kind of training in our Woodbridge, NJ office.  The class was gathering, and the doors were still open.  Just as I was about to begin, Augie, walking by, sees me, comes into the classroom, lets out a very loud hello, shakes my hand as if I was his long-lost son, asks me how I was doing (etc.) and then proceeds to tell the entire class...the room was "make sure you listen to Steve...he's really smart" (or something like that).  Understand I had not seen Augie for a couple of years, and by then he was a very successful Sales VP.  In a large, formal, sophisticated company like Prudential, well, people just didn't do that sort of thing.  But Augie was an original, and he did.  I don't have enough words in me to say just how happy that simple gesture made me feel.
I could tell a few more (including a time when Augie and I were in Kansas City, MO or the time a bunch of us got Augie talking about the JFK assassination), but I'm just one voice in a chorus of people who have countless Augie stories.  Anyway, may Augie Rest in Peace.  You can read Augie's obituary HERE.

Sadly, there will be more Augie-like stories to come.  This is all the more reason we need to take steps now to prevent even more tragedies.  This, all of this, matters.

On that note, I am a bit drained.

Oh, and before I forget, let's be careful out there.

* * * * * *

(*) Based on a total population of 12,820,878 (source HERE).

(**) I went into my former office yesterday morning to pack my stuff and bring it home.  As I was packing, that very same Augie story came to mind.  A day and a half later, I find myself thinking that, while in the past CEOs were lauded for making tough decisions...including to "rightsize" their organizations...maybe now we'll save the lauding for CEOs that do the opposite...that find a way to keep people employed through these difficult times.  Augie would approve.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 9

(because we all need a reminder)

You know, the least that the cosmos can do for us during this time of forced shut-in is to not make it miserable outside.  Today has been a pretty overcast & gloomy day in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with temperature in the low 40's and a perpetual sense of drizzle in the air.  I know, you could argue that the reverse, as in it being really nice outside, would be worse, but I disagree...there is nothing preventing any of us from going outside and enjoying the fresh air.  As long as we stay outside and keep at least 6 feet away from others.

As for me, I did go outside today, mostly to take some measurements for an outdoor project that I'll be starting soon.  I've got the time.  See yesterday

I had wanted to start these postings with some news of the pandemic crisis, but honestly, why make it worse?  What I will provide, of interest to my fellow Pennsylvania residents, are the following links:

You can add these to the Guardian/Johns Hopkins University excellent overall United States coverage (link HERE) if you want to keep up with the numbers.  

Among other news of note, there is conflicting information about how Covid-19 may interact with  Ibuprofen products, leading some to say that Acetaminophen may be the better choice to manage aches, pains and the like (reference HERE).  If you don't have Acetaminophen/Tylenol in your home, you may want to get some.  We didn't have any*, so there was a purchase made yesterday.  I really should be using Acetaminophen/Tylenol all the time, as it easier on the entirety of my digestive system, but Ibuprofen works better.  Anyway, go get some Tylenol, before the mad hordes start to hoard it.

Bouncing back to home, and in the news of the pedestrian and ironic, I'm getting the parts tomorrow needed to set up dual monitors at home.  This was for all the working at home I will was going to be doing.  I'm still going to set it up, as it's yet one more thing to tinker with and add to my technical resume.  On a more serious note, others have tried to convince me of the merits of dual monitors, but the last 9 months have truly shown me the light.  If you want less paper in your work life, go the dual monitor route.  

Lastly, now more than ever we need music.  More music.  Right before I started typing, this song just happened to appear in my head...

...which given the situation in New York City seems all the more fitting.  Here's to hoping that the lights go back on before too long.

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

(*) In fact, I have some in my former work office, in a desk drawer.  Unfortunately, I can't access it at the moment, as I'm still working on the mechanics of collecting my (former) office stuff.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 8

It's one of the oldest bits of wisdom imparted upon us:  Practice makes perfect.  That's usually applied to things where we want to get better.  Sometimes it's not though.  That's especially true for me now, as I found out yesterday morning that my position was one of several eliminated as a result of the economic slump caused by Covid-19.  Yes, I am being given more practice at the art of not being employed.

Was I surprised when I got the news?  Not really.  We all choose where we are in our professional lives, for the most part.  Part of having a cool job in a field like HR/learning and development is the realization that, come expense cutting time, you might be closer to the top of the job endangered list than you are to the bottom.  To quote the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson:

"Buy the tickettake the ride… and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well… maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion..."

Sure, being a fully functioning human being I do, in fact, feel a whole host of emotions when it comes to this recent life event.  Mostly though, I'd much rather spend my time thinking about what's ahead for me rather than what's behind me*.  This noted I think I've gotten enough practice in the layoff area, thank you very much.

More to come on that front.

* * * * * *

I've read in the news that some are calling for a relaxing of social distancing requirements (see HERE).  My take?  If this comes from a politician or business person...beware.  In spite of what some may have the general population believe, science is remarkably simple in that it is about a preponderance of the evidence.  Science doesn't care about politics or profits.  This means that if there is scientific and medical consensus around relaxing these guidelines, well, then take heed.  Otherwise?  Don't assume the folks at the press conference/briefing always have your best interests at heart.

On a related point, one of the (many) things giving me pause these days is the impact that the covid-19 outbreak is having on the elderly and/or those who may have compromised immune systems.  Even if you personally don't think you need to stay at home because of the virus, remember that you could inadvertently expose someone else to it.  This could be someone who is not in as good of a position as you are to weather the (viral) storm.

I get it by the way...part of me wants to go get a slice of pizza at Bouna's, sit down, and ponder life in a cloud of granulated garlic.  I know though that the best path between now and when I can do that again is to do my part and stay home.  That's pretty un-American of me (America's motto should be "I want it all, and I want it now"), but it's also the most human thing I (and we) can do.  Besides, these are truly first-world problems.

That's a wrap for this posting.  Remember, let's be careful out there.

* * * * * *

(*) I am, of course, looking for a new employment opportunity.  If you know of something, if you're curious about my background, or if you are in a similar boat, please do connect with me.  You can comment on this posting or connect with me through LinkedIn.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 6

(From THIS source)

So, how goes the "sheltering in place"?  Note that everyone should be sheltering in place, to the greatest extent possible, until further notice.  We're doing our level best in West Pittston, Pennsylvania to heed that advice, although I wouldn't call us complete shut-ins.  Currently, the amount of outside the house ventures are pretty much limited to the grocery store every other day or so (usually just for perishable things, like fruit and milk), walks when it is warm enough and car rides done basically just to remind ourselves of the world outside of the home, with the occasional trip for take-out food.  I suspect this will be the new norm.

One thing that does involve being outside and which is also exceptionally safe is working around the house.  I happen to love this time of the year.  Saturday I spent about two hours cleaning up the yard of debris, and today it was about an hour or so cutting down some branches that I trimmed off of our dwarf plumb in the front yard.  The actual pruning of the tree took place two or so weeks ago.  Of the things I do as part of any kind of routine, working outdoors is one that brings me real satisfaction.  Part of that is grounded in my need to work with my hands from time to time.  Another part comes from growing up where there was no yard of our own to tend for.  Maybe the biggest appeal is the fact that when I'm outside, it just seems like my thoughts are somehow more free than they are when I am inside.  These days that is more important than ever.

Speaking of inside, it's looking like I will be working from home (WFH) for many weeks to come.  As I mentioned in the Day 1 posting (which I inadvertently over-wrote), I really don't like working from home.  That noted, it truly is the best thing these days, and I count my blessing at having that opportunity.  Anyway, to prepare for the extended run of WFH, I ordered all of the parts I will need to run dual monitors in my home office.  The biggest expense for that project, namely actually having a second monitor, is one I don't have to bear, as we just happen to have a spare.  For those curious, we have a total of 8 flat-screen televisions and/or computer monitors, 3 of which will soon be running in the office.  A side benefit of the dual monitor set-up is that I am configuring it to easily switch between my work laptop and my home desktop.  I know, this whole subject is of interest only to me, but there's more to it:  It gives me something different to focus on, even if just for a moment or three.

Do you worry about all of this swirling around us?  I do, although I find those worries tend to slip in between the mental cracks.  It's easy for those cracks to exist, by the way, as following the pandemic news is about as addictive as crystal meth.  I need to do more to detach from the onslaught of 24/7 corona coverage.  No small feat for someone (myself) who feels a real need to have 3 or 4 things pinging around in my head at any given time.  Maybe that's part of the appeal of working outside for me:  I can trade one set of thoughts for another, such as this afternoon when I needed to be concerned about cutting a stack of branches down so that it would fit into a yard waste can.   

Maybe another line of thinking, one that is more productive, is to ponder just what the world is going to look like when this is over.  I haven't really fleshed that out all too well, but I do see two things right of the bat:  1) A newfound respect for those on the front lines of employment...such as truck drivers, grocery store personnel, the folks at your local pharmacy, etc.  2) A re-orientation away from the idea that collecting it money, power, somehow the highest aspiration for our country and species.  Maybe, just maybe, we will discover that greed is not, in fact good.  

Looking to the week ahead, I have to take my younger brother to the bank, something that has to be done in person once a month, going inside the bank to see a teller in order to execute a slightly complex transaction.  I'm not looking forward to it, and the truth is that I never look forward to that monthly chore, but I am thinking about how I can limit my (and my brother's) exposure risks.  Outside of that, it will be more of the same new normal.  As long as everyone stays healthy, well, that's not too bad.

By the way, when we do get take-out, we make it from a local establishment/small business.  This evening the trek was made all the way to Plimmitt (actually Plymouth; inside joke) to get barbecue from Uncle Buck's.   

(Half rack of ribs)

Yes, I've been relegated to posting pictures of food.

A Final Thought
I've managed to ramble on in this posting for a few paragraphs.   Honestly, I am quite unimpressed.  The reality is this:  I am stressed.  You are probably stressed too if you are paying the least bit of attention.  This pandemic thing is vexing:  On one hand, the vast majority of people who catch Covid-19 end up with a mild case; on the other hand, fear and anxiety rarely care all that much about logic and statistics.  All of us will just need to slug this one out, doing the simple but important things, like hand-washing.  I wish I had something more inspiring to say, but that's really just it...keep washing your hands.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 3

(you can find the original of the above HERE)

"I saw the decade in, when it seemed
the world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything
then there's your sign of the times"
- Jesus Jones: Right Here, Right Now

It's Day 3, and among other things, the number of cases in Pennsylvania increased by something like 40 between lunchtime and 5:30pm today.  This is with testing results just starting to come in.  We also had the Governor of Pennsylvania declare that businesses have been forced to close today at 8pm.  From what I read in the order though, there are a lot of exceptions.  You can find the full list HEREMore on that in a moment.

High drama?  When all is said and done, this is going to make Macbeth look like an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

On a more contemplative note, Ms. Rivers and I were talking about how we would manage if one of us fell ill.  Right off the bat, there's something of a flaw in that logic, in that if one of us got sick, the other one wouldn't be far behind anyway.  Regardless, we are fortunate (in many ways) that our second floor has a kind of master suite to it that can be closed off and which has its own bathroom...and my office.  If it were me, well, just slide some Oreos under the door and I think I would be fine for 14 days.

Getting back to the news of the day, namely the Pennsylvania Governor's closing of businesses, I've officially learned that my employer is exempt under the order (we manufacture things out of purchased Steel...yes, that's how it's worded in the official guidance).  The jury is still out on Ms. River's day (and evening, and night, and early morning) job, although regardless of physical locations closing, she's more than capable of working from home for an extended period of time.  I'm personally relieved that my employer isn't impacted...not so much for me, in that we could weather an extended closing financially...but more so for those folks have less in the way of savings and more in the way of relative financial resources.  That's the thing, by the way, about growing up poor:  You never forget how it felt. 

A Final Thought
On the above note, it's getting late and it seems like I've spent days in front of a computer screen.  That can't be good for me, but given the real danger faced by, say, healthcare workers, I have little room to complain.  I'll end this note by talking about heroes...real heroes...who are out there right now saving lives.  This includes just about everyone on the front lines of healthcare.  It includes public safety personnel who can't shirk away from those in need, pandemic or not.  It includes truck drivers and supermarket employees who are making sure that there is always something on the shelves.  Maybe one of the outcomes of this whole thing will be a recognition that sometimes heroes look suspiciously like normal people.

Be careful out there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 2


Where does the title come from?  Click HERE.  The intent here is to document what's going on during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.  As the more urban folks would say, "$hit got real".  Maybe 10 years from now I'll look back, read this, and be inspired.  Maybe I'll be amused.  Maybe I'll simply be confused.  Regardless, the intent is to be here 10 years from now to actually read this.

On to the posting.

* * * * * *

It's day 2 of the new normal, for as long as the new normal lasts.  For those that noticed, my "Day 1" posting has disappeared.  Illuminati?  Bilderbergs?  Nope...I accidentally over-wrote it.

What's in a Name?
In the news today, among other things, we had the President of the United States refer to the Covid-19 Virus as the "Chinese Virus", not once, but at least twice.  Here's why that's a problem:
  • By tagging this outbreak with a racial term, the President is giving the worst of our society, also known as racist swine, license to act against Asians in general, Chinese people in particular.  
  • The virus itself is not actually Chinese.  The idea of race is a categorization we use for humans, not pathogens.
  • The virus may have jumped species in China, but "from China" is different than "Chinese".  For example, I read a defense of the President's name for Covid-19 that went along the lines of "yeah, well what about Lyme Disease...that's named after a place!  Is that racist too?"...which is actually an incredibly stupid defense of an incredibly bad name.  Why?  Well yes, Lyme Disease is named after a real place, Lyme Connecticut.  However, for the comparison/racist-excuse to work, the disease would have to be called something like "Connecticuter Disease".  You see, "Lyme" is the name of a place.  "Chinese" is the name of a group of people.
  • Even if you buy some incredibly far-fetched 2am talk-radio inspired conspiracy about the origins of Covid-19, not every single person who is Chinese could possibly be in on it.
This, by the way, is what happens when I have time to think about things.

How Was YOUR Day?
Today was day 2 of working from home for me.  As I mentioned in the day 1 posting...if it still existed...I really don't like working from home.  That noted I'm making the best of it.  What helped the day improve was the fact that we visited our favorite ice cream parlor (Ballyhoo) for some take-out after dinner.  If you can, please make an extra effort to patronize local businesses during this crisis.  The WalMarts of the world will weather this fine, but small businesses may not be so lucky.

A Final Thought
More so than any time in my life, it's clear to me that how we end up after this crisis has ended will have far more to do with how we have acted as individuals than any kind of government policy or edict.  This literally could be something of a re-set button for us, a chance to take a step back and appreciate the value of kindness and helping each other.  We desperately need that in this country.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Update, From (sort of) Introvert Paradise

A follow-up, of sorts, to THIS posting.

I hope anyone reading this is doing well, given the circumstances.  I say this knowing full well that things are going to get worse before they get better.  I also know that's the epitome of negativity, but when it comes to a serious business such as this, well, valuing facts is more important than any kind of spin, positive or otherwise.

Just how bad will it get?  Here's an interesting and informative article on that very subject.

As for myself and my wife, well, we're in good shape.  Fortunately, we began making preparations since mid-February, so we have more than enough of the essentials to last a while, including cat food.  Granted that there will very likely be some inconveniences coming up...for everyone...but sometimes being inconvenienced is better than being sick (or worse).  We're both working on behavior changes as well, including being careful what we touch and avoiding large crowds.  We even have hand sanitizer in our cars so that we can even disinfect a bit after being out.

By the way, there's a lot of misinformation about the use of hand sanitizer out there.  For example, I was in a store checkout line and the 50's-ish woman in front of me was loudly proclaiming that hand sanitizer only killed bacteria.  While washing your hands is the best defense against picking up a virus, hand sanitizer can help.  Just ask the Mayo Clinic.

Changing behavior is difficult.  I am notorious for touching my face and rubbing my eyes.  That's something I am working on changing.  It's not easy, but I try to remind myself of just utterly ridiculous it would be for me to get sick because of a compulsion. When it comes to times like this, sometimes the little things are big things.

An area where I am admittedly at something of an advantage is social distancing.  I don't really enjoy socializing all that much, and in fact, the places were I spend most of my time (my home and work offices) are decidedly low-traffic affairs.  In fact, my work office is at the end of a hallway, and the nearest office that's regularly used is a good 20 feet away.  For once in my life, appearing to be anti-social is actually an advantage (of sorts).  With Spring nearly here, I've also started doing some yard-work, which I both enjoy and which is about one of the seemingly lowest risk endeavors out there these days.

Granted, I do have worries:
  • I worry about parents who have to face children being home from school without any child-care arrangements available.
  • I worry about the healthcare workers we depend on...especially now...who will be at a far greater risk of infection than the rest of us.  
  • I worry about people who truly live paycheck-to-paycheck that may struggle with basic necessities as this drags on.
  • I worry about the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions who will suffer the most from this outbreak.
I'll do my best to help where I can.

Lastly, we should also think about what happens after this outbreak.  There could be enormous good resulting from all of this...such as a national realization that healthcare is a fundamental right, and that there should be a universal standard of sorts for sick-time.  No one should be forced to go to work and possibly infect others purely on the basis of personal finances.  I also hope that this re-focuses our national attention away from lying politicians and sensational media and towards rational decision-making grounded in both compassion and a healthy respect for what science teaching us.  

Be careful out there.  Don't take unnecessary chances.  Make rational decisions.  Rely on a preponderance of the evidence, not what some talking head on TV reads from a teleprompter or what some social media Russian Bot posts on-line.  Question those would have you believe that everything is okay or that this is the end of the world as we know it (the truth is somewhere in the middle; in fact, let's hope that the word does change).
Lastly, and most importantly in my mind, be kind.  Simply be kind.  Help people.  Show compassion.  Reject anger and those who push a blame-agenda.

To end on a more positive note, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. George Harrison.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

James Lipton's Quiz

In honor of the late James Lipton
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word? Demand What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? People who are kind (to themselves, others, animals, etc.). What turns you off? Large egos. What is your favorite curse word? Sh*t What sound or noise do you love? A baby giggling. What sound or noise do you hate? Anything techno. I'm getting a headache just thinking about it. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? An architect or an electrician. What profession would you not like to do? A dentist; I just couldn't ever see myself sticking my fingers in different mouths. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? "Welcome, Steve. Let me take you to your brother...he's over there with all the cats."*

(*) This pre-supposes that I will die before my wife, which is likely a good bet.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Coronavirus - Ignore the Talking Heads, Listen to the Scientists & Medical Professionals

(What some would have you believe; note that it apparently stinks to be Hawaii & Alaska)

Preface:  Right off the bat I will confess to the fact that I have a conflict of interest when it comes to this topic.  Specifically, I have a daughter, Dr. Albert, who is a real-life scientist.  This is in addition to my bias against bull$hit, especially as spread by politicians and the opinion media.  On to the post.

* * * * * *

We live in an interesting age, one where truth can attempt to be re-written by a Sharpie and science marginalized because it provides truths that some voters may just as soon not want to hear.  As if ignoring a fact somehow changes it into a fiction.  Anyway, you can find some rational, non-politicized advice from scientists and medical professionals about the coronavirus HERE.   A key point or two is noted directly below.

"A mask that you have never used before and wear all day long, that gets damp, is not going to help you. You may touch it a lot because it is uncomfortable, lowering its effectiveness.
Quite simply, good hand hygiene and face hygiene will protect you from a lot of illnesses, including Covid-19.
    Risk is dependent on exposure. Some people will have an increased risk of infection, such as health care workers caring for patients with Covid-19 and other close contacts. For the general public in the US, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from Covid-19 is considered low at this time."

    This is a serious, nasty business.  As someone with asthma, I dread just getting a cold, as it takes forever for me to kick and inevitably ends up with me taking steroids that make me both bouncy and greasy (which, admittedly, is better than not actually breathing).  Needless to say, I want to limit my exposure to the virus, and quite frankly, you should too, especially if you or a family member is at heightened risk for infection.  Please take this seriously!

    For the record, you will not get good information about the virus from talk radio or any single source, including (unfortunately) the United States government.  I just want to put that out there, in case anyone wants to believe that coronavirus is no worse than the common cold.

    Here are some additional sources of information that are not tainted by the political lens.

    World Health Organization (WHO) Facebook Page

    WHO Webpage

    Coronavirus Live Map (New York Times)

    BBC Coronavirus Tracking (BBC)

    Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Information

    Wall Street Journal, What We Know...

    Center for Disease Control (CDC)*

    Again, please take this seriously by staying informed.  Spend less time listening to politicians and more time listening to scientists and medical professionals.  Have a plan for how you will manage your affairs if, for example, schools and other public places are closed.  Stock up on medications.  Have plenty of extra non-perishable food on hand.  Avoid traveling if at all possible, especially by airplane.

    Mostly though, be careful out there.

    (*) Note that increasingly, it seems that attempts are being made to politicize information coming out of the CDC, including placing Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coronavirus communications (reference HERE). I am not suggesting that CDC information is unreliable, but I am stating that I would not solely rely on medical/scientific communications coming through someone who doesn't have a great track record when it comes to actual science (reference HERE).

    Wednesday, February 26, 2020

    Ash Wednesday

    True stories:  When I was a kid, I found three experiences to be particularly traumatic.

    #1) Dental Work
    As a very young kid, we went to a dentist who didn't believe in using Novocain.  Not a drop.  As I type this, I still have a memory of that drill going into my baby teeth...the pressure...the pain...the smell.  Fortunately, by the time reached about age 12, the old Dentist stopped practicing (that or Simon Wiesenthal finally caught up with him) so we started seeing a new dentist.  This one was far more compassionate.

    #2) Needles
    Like most kids, I hated needles.  What made me particularly bad with the pointy things was the fact that I had surgery three times between the ages of 5 and 7, so I got stuck a lot.  It honestly wasn't until my 20's before that fear started to wain.  Nowadays?  Heck, I give instructions on the placement of an IV (top of the hand, thank you very much).

    #3) Ash Wednesday
    I loathed Ash Wednesday as a kid.  I literally hated it.  In fact, on more than one occasion I would become sick...real or imaginary...when the day came around.  Why?  Well, there are probably a few reasons, but three come to mind...
    • I simply didn't like someone smearing dirt on me.  It made me feel filthy.  Just writing that brings back memories of that gritty feeling as the dirty was spread on my all-too-large forehead.  It reminded me of filled ashtrays at home. 
    • Reminding me, as a young kid, that I was going to die seemed cruel, especially given my incredibly fertile imagination.
    • The exercise seemed so insincere, what with normally mean-spirited people walking around with this mark on their heads, saying "look at me, I'm so pious (in all of the wrong ways)".  It was a kind of "black badge of insincerity". 

    What's kind of ironic is the fact that the first two items have completely turned around on me as I've grown older.  I am border-line fanatical about my teeth these days, and I even had a dental implant done.  As for needles, well, see above...I really don't mind.  In fact, if it's something that will help me, well, bring it on.  Ash Wednesday, it still skeeves me out.  Luckily for me, nowadays I no longer have to pretend to be sick when the day comes around every year.  I still don't, however, like to look at people with it on their foreheads.  

    Monday, February 17, 2020

    IKEA Smell

    I make no secret of the fact that I really like IKEA.  In fact, it's about the only retail experience these days that I find the least bit interesting.  Simply put, IKEA turns shopping for things into an event.  In my case, that would be an event that is worth driving 90 or so minutes to experience two or three times a year.  Among the many reasons I enjoy about IKEA?  The smell.

    The Internet tells me that IKEA smells like cinnamon buns (reference HERE), but I don't buy it.  I know the smell of cinnamon buns.  I like the smell of cinnamon buns.  IKEA does not smell like cinnamon buns.

    If I had to describe the smell, it would be something that's a combination of:
    • A light cleaning solution/disinfectant of some type
    • 3,000 tons of laminate
    • The cafeteria, although not a particular food
    • Something sweet
    • Slightly herbal
    • Slightly floral
    Maybe this is part of some greater Swedish conspiracy to get folks like me to buy more reasonably priced but yet stylish self-assembled furniture*.  Maybe it's all in my head.  But the smell is there, I swear it is.

    I could rant on and on about how much I enjoy going to IKEA and why it's a terrific business (including their composting of cafeteria scraps).  In fact, over the course of the 11+ years of the blog I probably already have, but I am too un-motivated to check at the moment.  I will note though that I do have one IKEA complaint:  The don't sell ribs in the cafeteria anymore.  When I first went to IKEA, something like a dozen years ago, the cafeteria had ribs that were among the best I have ever had in my entire life.  Bar none, I swear.  Alas, the ribs are gone, and I have to make do with the Swedish meatballs (which are pretty good).

    To end on a high note, some IKEA humor.

    (*) All of the furniture in my home office is from IKEA, including two work surfaces, a bookcase, a dresser, a cube unit, a rolling file storage unit, and a Symfonisk speaker lamp.

    Friday, February 14, 2020

    Valentine's Day

    "Let us be lovers, 
    we'll marry our fortunes together"

    (Paul Simon, "America")

    I was trying to ponder the best way to describe a sentiment suitable for Valentine's Day, and for some reason the Simon & Garfunkel song "America" came to mind.  In particular, the line "Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together" stands out as one of those deceptively simple but yet incredibly poignant thoughts that I think requires a genius to come up with.  Put another way, I could probably write 600 words that wouldn't mean a tenth of what Paul Simon wrote in 9.  

    In the old days...and I mean really old days...people would literally marry their fortunes together, putting all they had into something else, something bigger, something important and worthy.  It's not necessarily a romantic or love inspired thought, but when you think about it, that does almost perfectly describe the meaning of true love.  I mean what is true love if it isn't putting all you have into something greater, something where two become one?

    Here's to everyone who has managed to find someone to marry their fortunes with on this Valentine's Day.  And if you're still looking, well, keep at it.  There is always something bigger on the horizon.

    PS - The best version, ever, of this song was performed by David Bowie during the Concert for New York.  Just Bowie sitting on a stage with a small keyboard.  Another example of genius wrapped in a deceptively simple package.  

    Sunday, February 9, 2020

    In the Living Years

    I have a posting on a relevant, timely topic all ready to go, but I'm not going to do it.  I'm just not feeling it.  Instead, this feels more important.

    This was at my brother Rich's wedding, probably 1988 or so.  In case you can't tell, I'm the one wearing the stylish hot pink tie.  That seems like it was a lifetime ago.  Or longer.  And so very, very much has changed since then.  

    Time, it seems, is a funny thing.  We measure time in terms of our planet's rotation on its axis and rotation around the sun.  Those would seem to be relatively constant things.  In reality, though, they are not.  In fact, they seem relative.  

    When I was a child, time passed incredibly slowly.

    Now, at age 55, time seems to fly by.  Except for the fact that, for example, it seems like only yesterday when my brother Chris (first on the left in the picture above) passed away in January 2017. Conversely, looking forward, my plan is to work until about age 65 and then retire.  That, in spite of how time at age 55 seems to pass by quickly, seems so very far away.

    Maybe time isn't so constant at all.  Or more precisely, maybe the thing being measured is constant, but the person doing the measuring isn't.  Regardless, these are heady questions that far exceed my pay-grade.

    What does seem abundantly true, but yet hard to fully appreciate, is that regardless of how fast (or slow) time passes by, it's probably most important (and for me, the most difficult) to appreciate the moment that we are in, not dwelling on the past or worried about the future.  I know this intellectually (I've pretty much read every book written by Eckhart Tolle), but actually practicing it is a different story.  I'd like to say that "I've got time to learn that", but who knows if that's actually true.  Unlike half-gallon jugs of milk, our expiration dates aren't printed on our side.  

    In any event, here's to the living years.

    Monday, February 3, 2020

    What the Leadership of the Scranton School District Fails to Grasp

    The screen grab, above, comes from a Tweet regarding this evening's Scranton School District (SSD) board meeting.  You can follow the reporter's Twitter feed HERE.  This is another chapter in the story of buried and ignored lead and asbestos findings in district buildings.  By way of backstory, click on THIS link.  Here's one key point of that article:

    "Scranton first tested its water in 2016, after the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, drew national attention to the issue. That June, the district announced it had shut off eight water fountains and 11 sinks after test results revealed elevated lead levels in the water. Officials had planned to replace the brass or bronze fittings in the affected places that summer, but the district has been unable to find any proof the issues were addressed."

    What Superintendent McTiernan fails to grasp by her comment is the perception that things are never actually taken care of in the SSD.  No one is held accountable.  The examples are legion, and some have been chronicled in this blog over the years, from an egregiously ridiculous no-bid busing contract that was actually renewed with no objections, to school board directors failing to attend meetings, to nepotism so bad that it boarders on shameful. 

    Case in point:  The felon former business administrator of the SSD, who pleaded guilty to getting free auto repairs from the district for himself and his "family", and received probation for his efforts.  Oh, and his wife (a.k.a. his "family") still works for the SSD.  Reference HERE and HERE.  You can't make this up.

    As someone who attended the SSD myself and who had children attend as well, I have to ask if I was exposed to lead and asbestos.  The harmful effects of these things have been known for decades, so why it even took until 2016 for this to come to light escapes me.  It should be shocking to no one that, for example, a 114 or so year old building might have asbestos issues.  In fact, the truly shocking part is the fact that no one bothered to look into it until 2016...and then they did nothing about it.

    The people involved in hiding the  2016 testing results should be held criminally responsible for their actions.  They intentionally put children and staff in SSD buildings in harm's way.  Scranton residents, current and past (including me) will have to make due with the heaping of shame upon prior administrations for yet another example of their gross incompetence.


    Tuesday, January 21, 2020

    What I Learned from Watching 3 Hours of Old Cigarette Commercials

    Being something of a knowledge junkie, I wanted to better understand how tobacco products were sold over the years.  Enter YouTube, and after about 3 hours of videos, I've come to some conclusions.  Some of these are serious, some are stupid, but so be've been warned.

    (Weird cartoon toilet bowl seat man smoking; from THIS video.)

    Before I get to the list, I do want to make an important point:  Smoking is an incredibly stuping thing to do.  If you smoke, I really and truly wish you would stop.  Honestly, I do.  It's a truly senseless habit:  It costs a lot of money, it smells...and makes you smell...bad, it's basically a delivery mechanism for a highly addictive drug and it can kill you in ways that are just ridiculously horrible (citation HERE).  By any objective measure, smoking makes absolutely no sense.

    Oh, and by the way, the argument that "well, it's no worse than obesity" doesn't fly here.  Why?  Obesity, while dangerous, represents an excess of something all humans  Yes, the worst food has some nutritional value, even if that's to provide basic calories.  There is, however, absolutely zero redeeming value in smoking.    Again, please stop smoking.

    Anyway, here's the list.
    1. Teeth - Everyone in the commercials seems to have perfectly white teeth.  That's remarkable given the damage that chronic smoking can actually do to your teeth (see HERE).
    2. Tips - Filters that were made of cork, tobacco itself, activated charcoal, inverted or extroverted.  Or no filters at all.  Riddle me this Batman:  If you accept the need for a filter, which stops bad stuff from going into your lungs, doesn't that basically prove the very act of smoking (where bad stuff goes into your lungs) is in fact bad?
    3. Robot - The number of commercials narrated by Bob Tufeld...who also voiced the Robot on the original Lost in Space television show...was incredible.  I kept waiting for the phrase "danger Will Robinson" to come out at any moment as someone started smoking.
    4. 21 - A commercial noted that "21 different tobaccos" made up their product.  I didn't know that there were that many different types of tobacco.  I've since learned that there are three basic kinds of tobacco plants, but they each have been engineered into countless different varieties.  Interesting, but I suspect there are probably 21 different kinds of maggots as well.
    5. Athletes - Back in the day, athletes apparently smoked, a lot.  
    6. Everyone Smoked (except everyone really didn't) - Smoking commercials painted a picture of every adult smoking.  That's not actually correct by the way; the highest smoking rate, among men in the United States, was 56.9 in 1955 (citation HERE).  By the year 2000, the rate had dropped to below 25%.
    7. Coupons - Once upon a time you could collect smoking coupons by giving yourself lung cancer and then use them to buy stuff for your home (or even a puppy).
    8. Cartoons - The number of cartoons used to sell tobacco products was shocking.  Be it a particular brand sponsoring the Flintstones or an animated penguin selling menthols, it was, by today's standards appalling.  I know, get in line.  
    9. It's Hot In Here - Actual cigarette commercial premise:  Two young people are dancing in a crowded room.  The young lady says "It's hot in here, let's get some air", so she and her male companion go out to a balcony to smoke.  Isn't wanting "some air" and smoking, which actually prevents your lungs from getting air, somewhat contradictory?
    10. Minorities - Minorities didn't seem to smoke too much in commercials.  Nice to know that white-washing was an equal opportunity endeavor.
    11. All the Time - The commercials showed people smoking at work, at home, while eating, after eating, while making food, while relaxing, while being active outdoors and everywhere else imaginable.  There was even a commercial that showed someone smoking while taking a shower.
    12. Smells - Some tobacco products were sold as smelling "great".  That's ironic, given the fact that prolonged smoking harms your sense of smell (citation HERE).  As a side note, I'll also add that, by and large, smoking smells horrible.
    13. Taste Good - Another common theme among smoking commercials was that they "taste great" or something along those lines.  As is the case with the smell, smoking can actually harm your sense of taste (citation HERE).   
    14. It's Cool - Smoking makes someone look chic, hip, hard-working, fun, and countless other least according to the commercials.  They fail to mention though how cool it is to wake up and cough up a lung.  Every morning.
    15. Doctor Recommended - Countless early commercials touted the smoking habits of doctors.  That hasn't exactly aged well, now has it?
    16. Menthol Magic - Some commercials touted the "magic" of menthol.  I'd call that one down-right insidious.  Why?  There is plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that menthol infused tobacco actually turbo-charges the negative effects of smoking (citation HERE).
    17. T Zone - One brand touted the "benefits" smoking had in the "T Zone", which was basically your nose and throat.  Another example of a selling theme that basically says: "This is bad, but not as bad as others, and that makes this thing actually good".  That's smoking logic for you, circa the 1950s.
    18. Lucille Ball - Listen to Lucille Ball's voice during one of the many early commercials she did for the tobacco company that sponsored her television show and then in the years right before she died.  It's borderline shocking.  By the way, smoking was linked to her death ("Ironically, Arnaz died of lung cancer in 1986, and Ball of heart disease three years later — deaths that have long been linked to their cigarette smoking."; citation HERE).  She went from high-pitch to a frog.  
    19. Language - A "short smoke" is when you only smoke a part of a cigarette and is indicative of the need to switch brands.  There was also other smoking lingo used in the commercials.  Kind of like a cool kids club secret language.  I'd suggest adding "lung rot" to the lingo list.
    20. Older Folks - A large majority of smoking commercials featured younger to middle-aged folks and were centered on getting people to switch cigarette brands.  Older folks were excluded.  I suspect the marketing thought was that it didn't make sense to sell cigarettes to older people who were going to be killed by your product before too long anyway.
    Too harsh?  Too snarky?

    Probably yes on both counts.  

    If this offended you, well, you can get even with me by kicking the smoking habit.  Deal?

    Sunday, January 19, 2020

    I Don't Like Games... in board games, card games, etc. 

    In fact, I think the last board game I played may have been in 2015 when I intentionally lost in  Monopoly to my younger stepson.  I'm sure this causes all measure consternation among my wife and her family, all of whom are up for all manner of gaming.  It was not always this way.

    Growing up, I had three brothers (and we are all a year apart...Rich, Steve, Chris, and Joe).  Given that crew, games such as Monopoly and Life weren't all that uncommon, along with the odd card game of War, what passed for Poker (in our minds) and probably other things I am forgetting.  Back then, I felt an intense need to win.  Maybe having fun was part of the supposed reason for playing, along with keeping young boys busy, but that didn't occur to me.  No, it was about coming out on top.  It was about beating my brothers.  That was my mission, and as I recall, I was fairly successful.

    When I think about the paths we (my brothers and myself) have taken, that "have to win" mentality certainly played out for me time and time again.  Whatever and whenever my brothers had something I didn't, well, it irked me.  I was losing, and I needed to win.  Granted, having something of a long-term view of things helped me in all of this, as I didn't feel compelled, for example, to boost a 7-11 in order to get the money to get a better car than Chris' early 80's Plymouth Arrow.  But it still stuck at me nevertheless, and I knew I had to...and the car game.  Just like Monopoly.

    In hindsight, well, it was all so what's the word?  Oh, stupidIt was stupid.

    Reflection and insight have taught me that I was actually competing against myself, against my own sense of having to win...of having to be "good enough".  A stern self-judgment holds no quarter.  At least not in my head.

    So, one of the casualties of it all has been my disdain for anything resembling competition.  There has been a notable exception in that I played on an ad-hoc trivia night team, but even then I could feel the intensity of the competition.  I had fun doing that, but it did remind me of so many competitions of the past.  And I secretly (well not secretly anymore) loved it when our team won, which it did from time to time.  For the record, I never would have played trivia without the invitation from a former co-worker, and I am grateful to her for the ask.

    Where does this leave me?

    I'm still not going to play games.  I'd play trivia again, but that's about it.  At least for now. Maybe one day I'll be able to actually play a game for the fun of it.  Granted that may have to be with grandchildren, but that does give me something to look forward to.

    Monday, January 6, 2020

    Goals, Goals, Goals

    Note:  I was actually thinking of the Motley Crue song (as odd as that sounds) when I came up with the title.

    As I’ve noted here in the past, every year I set some goals for myself.  Some might call these new year’s resolutions, but I've never thought of it that way.  Rather, I think everyone should always have some set of goals they are working towards, be they simple or complex.  There’s just too much of life to be experienced, and documenting the steps involved in that experience only makes sense.

    Anyway, as I began thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in 2020, I decided to learn about some of the best practices for setting personal goals.  That turned out to not be all that helpful.  For example, there’s some decent thought out there that says we should only set no more than 3 goals for ourselves at any given time.  That’s something which simply doesn’t work for me, in part because my thinking and interests can be so divergent, that I could never come up with just three.  However, I did settle on “three” in a sense:  I broke my goals up in the three categories:  Personal, Professional and Home.  From there though, there was no limiting things to just three.

    In another vein, I am reviving a practice for 2020 that I had many years ago, namely that of setting a theme for the year.  This year, the theme is “Creating a New Normal”.  That’s an important idea for me, as it seems like the past 10 years of my life have been just been a rolling series of upheavals and dramatic change, far from anything that would seem like “normal”.  Sure, there was plenty of change in the pre-2010 world as well, but things over the past few years just seem like they have gotten particularly out of hand in that particular (change) department.

    So, what am I planning?  Well, there’s some usual stuff…
    …lose some weight
    …read more books (I read a lot, but I sometimes lack the focus to devote to whole books)
    …many projects around the house (such as creating a walk-way to our garage)

    There are also some new things on the list as well, such as decluttering my vast store of stuff*. 

    Some of the goals are simply reminders to take the time to do things I really enjoy, such as photography.  

    Mostly though, the goals are a kind of reminder that, since there are a lot of things outside of my control, it's important to focus on those things where my reach does not, in fact, exceed my grasp.

    Here’s to all of us creating a new normal in 2020.

    (*) For example, I have every work performance appraisal I have received since 1989.  Why do I need to keep that?


    Thursday, January 2, 2020

    The Interesting Life of Rudy Giuliani

    Rudy Giuliani has been in the news quite a bit over the past few months, and none of it has been all that flattering.  In a way, he’s a modern-day tragic kind of figure:  Going from “America’s Mayor” in New York City during 9/11 to now someone more known for outrageous statements to the press and seemingly shady foreign dealings.  With that noted, here are some facts about Rudy Giuliani, most of which are actually true.

    1.     Rudy Giuliani has been married 3 times.  If you add his marriage count to that of RushLimbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump, you get a total of 13.  This puts him below the average for that list of family values espousing Republicans.  Rudy can thank Rush for boosting the average above 3. *
    2.     Rudy Giuliani’s first wife was his second cousin. *
    3.     Rudy Giuliani and his first wife did not have children.  If they did though, for example, have a male child, that individual would be both Rudy’s son and his cousin.  That would make for some confusion at family reunions.  “This is my son, I mean my cousin, I mean my cou-son”.  *
    4.     Rudy Giuliani’s favorite television show of all time is All in the Family. **
    5.     Rudy Giuliani is a cancer survivor. *
    6.     Rudy Giuliani is rumored to use 23 and Me as a dating app. **
    7.     Rudy Giuliani could technically be called “Rudy Giuliani, K.B.E.” after receiving an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. *
    8.     Rudy Giuliani is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. *
    9.     Rudy Giuliani has many detractors, but few doubt how much he loves his family.  Especially his cousins. **
    10.  Rudy Giuliani once said, while defending President Trump, that “facts are in the eye of the beholder”.  It’s a good thing that the doctors and scientists who developed his cancer treatment had a differing opinion on the subject of “facts”.  *

    (*) Actually true; see links for references.
    (**) Not actually true, at least as far as I know.