Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!

Please allow me to introduce myself...

This year I didn't spend Halloween working, or sitting on my front porch with a tally counter and cases of extra candy, or sitting on a chair in front of my mom's house passing out candy to a handful of kids like I did last year. No, this year I spent at the Be Daring Open Mic at Adezzo - my first time there in several months. My last work schedule (8:30 AM - 7:00 PM, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday) didn't give me an opportunity to get out to this open mic, but since my old workplace closed down at the end of September, that isn't an issue anymore - at least for the moment. I read one of my "Devil Stories" tonight - "Performance Review", which I've never posted individually to this blog, but can be found in this post.

The next Be Daring Open Mic at Adezzo is Wednesday, November 28 - the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, and the day after the next Poems at the Pub, Tuesday, November 27 at Dugan's Pub, 385 Main Street in Luzerne, featuring poet Craig Czury.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Nanticoke panorama, Autumn 2018

The leaves are finally showing colors in and around Nanticoke. I got some beautiful images of Nanticoke from this vantage point in Holy Trinity Cemetery just outside of the Nanticoke city limits a few months ago (I'll re-link to the original post from April once I figure out why the photos aren't showing), and I wanted to try to capture the colorful scene on what might be the last sunny day for a while. Unfortunately, as you can see in the image above, there wasn't a lot of color in these particular trees.

(Funny story: if you have a car that has headlights that automatically shut off a minute or so after you turn off the ignition, it turns out that if you open a door to remove your camera, or the trunk to get your tripod and leave it open, the headlights stay on. So if you leave the door or trunk open for, say, ten minutes while you take photos, the headlights stay on for ten minutes, plus a little bit more. If you have a battery near the end of its life, when you go to start your car, you may find that the battery doesn't have enough juice to turn the engine over, and you will need to call AAA for a jump, and be stuck in a cemetery as the sun sets and the time when the dates are shut and locked nears.)

There were some other, more colorful trees in front of me. So, since I wasn't going anywhere until I got a jump, I took a few more photos.

The Bear Creek Wind Farm is about fifteen miles away from where I took this photo. In the main image, these wind generators are located slightly to the left of the center of the picture. These things are huge.

Two years later

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a poem trying to capture my feelings about the outcome of the November 8, 2016 election. It didn't, not quite.

It's a toned-down, polite, almost family-friendly version of those feelings. It mutes the rage, the fury, the...everything. But it made a point: in two years, there would be another opportunity. Another chance to make up for the great American fuck-up of 2016.

And that chance is here. Now. Already, for some. November 6, 2018 for the rest of us. Those who decided to stay at home can get off the couch and march to the voting booth. Those who sent a "message" to Hillary Clinton with their vote in 2016 can send another message that says "Well, for Christ's sake, this isn't what I wanted!" Those who voted to go "BUST" can reflect on two years of their victory and see if they've had enough. And those who voted for Trump can start to make amends for their mistake - or can go to Hell.

Trump isn't on the ballot. But as he himself has said, Trump is on every ballot. Any Republican who is still a Republican is a proxy for Trump. Any Republican elected to Congress is another opportunity for the Party of Trump to control committee assignments and Congressional investigations. The only way to start to bring the Trump occupation to an end is to vote Republicans out and Democrats in. Will America choose to undo its fuck-up next week?

(originally posted December 1, 2016)

Some thoughts on the outcome of the 2016 U.S. General Election

America, you fucked up.

Two hundred and forty years since you declared your independence,
seventy-five years since you joined a war against fascism,
you turn around and hand your country to Fascists.
Not just the presidency, no, that wan't enough.
You gave them the congress, both damn houses
and threw in the Supreme Court to boot.

Trump voters, I ain't even mad at you.
Not much, anyway.
(Well, that's a lie.)
Fish gonna swim, birds gonna fly,
folks like you gonna do what folks like you gonna do.
You won. You own this.
For the next four years, whatever happens is on your head.

Busters? Hey, I liked Bernie, a lot.
I was gonna vote for him in the primary.
Then I got a look at some of the crap y'all were posting.
You swore up and down that Hillary would never win.
And guess what? You did it! All those "dank memes" paid off!
Now what?

Stein and Johnson voters?
Yeah, you tried real hard.
Too bad your candidates didn't win.
Did you really think they had a chance?
Or were you just making some sort of noble gesture?
Well, you did your part for the cause.
You helped get Trump in office.

Boy, you had it tough.
Sit on your ass instead of stand on your feet.
You could have made a difference.
Instead, you just stepped aside and let Trump win.
You get the most blame of all.
You did nothing, and let evil triumph.

The rest of us?
You're probably as tired and pissed-off as I am.
We can't just crawl in a hole and hide.
Two years til we can take back congress.
Two more after that til we're done with this jackhole.
We've gotta fight, and keep fighting
and remind everybody else
that even if they fucked up this time
they get a chance to atone for what they've done.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Cat therapy make-up post

I missed a post yesterday.

The whole world has gone insane, the (nominally) United States of America in particular. A white male Trump fanatic sent more than a dozen bombs through the U.S. Postal Service t o politicians, public figures, and a news network - all of whom had previously been critical of the God Emperor. A white male with a gun tried to enter a predominantly black church in Kentucky, but found it locked, so instead he went into a local Kroger and murdered two elderly black shoppers. And that story was knocked out of the headlines shortly thereafter when a white male with several guns (including that darling of mass shooters, an AR-15) entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh (about a mile from where I lived when I spent five weeks at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1984) and murdered eleven people while shouting anti-Semitic statements. (In each case, the white male was taken alive.)

Fuck it. Good luck, future historians. Some of us tried to stop this. I know, I know - we should have fucking tried harder.

So anyway, here's a picture of me with one of my cats - Joey, who is over eighteen years old, and probably won't be with us much longer.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Cat nap time again

No new blog post today. Joey, our oldest cat, has decided he wants to be swaddled in a blanket and held while he sleeps, and that duty has fallen to me.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Open Mic at the Dietrich, October 26, 2018

The last Open Mic at the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock for 2018 was held tonight.

Original country blues songs, paying tribute to a friend who died young and soldiers who serve far from home.

Ventriloquist Courtland Birchard was back with Joey Jokers. Courtland is 88 years old, and Joey is 71.

At one point the routine became eerily meta, as Joey pointed out to Courtland that in all the years they have been performing, he - Joey - has never actually said a word, and that Courtland has been responsible for everything he has ever spoken.

George Gershwin sung a cappella.

The feature performer was storyteller Hal Pratt.

Open mics return to the Dietrich Theater in March of 2019.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Upcoming readings and open mics

Friday, October 26: Open Mic Night at the Dietrich, featuring Hal Pratt

The Dietrich is an historic theater located at 60 East Tioga Street in Tunkhannock. Sign-ups for the open mic begin at 6:30, and performances begin at seven. The featured performer will be storyteller Hal Pratt. Admission is free. This will be the last open mic of the season.

Listing on Dietrich Theater page

Wednesday, October 31: Be Daring Open Mic & Halloween Costume Party

Held the last Wednesday of every month at Adezzo, 515 Center Street, Scranton - on Halloween! Sign-ups for a limited number of slots begin at 6:30 - sometimes earlier - and performances begin at 7:00. Admission is free.

Be Daring Open Mic community page
Be Daring Open Mic & Halloween Costume Party event page

Tuesday, November 27: Poems at the Pub, featuring Craig Czury

At Dugan's Pub, 385 Main Street in Luzerne. Poet Craig Czury will be the feature, and an open mic will follow. More details will be coming soon!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Changing fortunes

Today has been a messed-up day. Yesterday George Soros, billionaire and favorite boogieman of the Party of Trump, received a pipe bomb in his mailbox. This morning additional pipe bombs were intercepted on their way to Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack and Michelle Obama - and then, in the middle of the morning broadcast, the CNN New York offices were evacuated because the, too, had received a bomb in the mail. Former Attorney General Eric Holder - sent to an incorrect address, and returned to the sending address of Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Representative Maxine Waters - two bombs for her; Joe Biden - well, no bomb yet, but a strong suspicion that there's a bomb already in the mail for him.

I don't want to talk about that.

I'm about to run out of space in my check register, which came free with my checkbook refills. Whenever I run low on checks, I automatically get a new set of checks, I believe four checkbook refills (each with fifty checks) and a new check register. In the past this system worked fine. I usually had check registers that went unused, though what I did with them I'm not sure.

Right now I have quick access to five check registers. The oldest I used for eight years, from September 2004 to March 2012, and it has records of three hundred and twenty-six checks. I didn't buy my house until 2006, so there weren't as many monthly bills from 2004 to 2006, but this still works out to an average of about forty checks a year. (I believe I was also writing a lot of checks during this period from a separate account with a credit union.) The next register covers just two years, from March 2012 to July 2014, and three hundred and forty-five checks. The one after that also covers two years, July 2014 through March 2016, but only has records of one hundred and ninety-three checks; by this time I was increasingly embracing online payments, and writing fewer physical checks - but each payment was duly noted in the check register. The next register spans a single year, March 2016 to August 2017, and only ninety-seven checks. The current one covers August 2017 to the present, and so far has records of thirty-six checks.

Which brings us to the sixth register. I needed a new one, and none of the big box office supply stores stock anything quite so downscale. Neither does Walmart. I can order them online - three from OfficeMax/Office Depot for $3.99, or a pack of ten from Walmart (or Amazon) for $4.99. Do I really need that many, all with the same three year-at-a-glance calendars on the back?

My mom rummaged through some stuff and found an old check register I could use. Very old. The three year-at-a-glance calendars on the back are 1990, 1991, and 1992...which, in a bizarre coincidence, correspond exactly to the calendars for 2018, 2019, and 2020. So, with this twenty-eight-year-old check register, I should be set for a while - or the next twenty-five checks or so.

We'll see what madness tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Two irons in the fire

...and about to put in a third.

The job market locally is very different than it was six and a half years ago. At that time very few places were hiring, pay rates were low, and hours being offered were lousy. (I had two real job options back then: night shift quality control at a paper cup manufacturer thirty minutes from my house, or a shift somewhere between 8:00 AM and 12:15 PM at a travel agency ten minutes away. Both paid the same.) Most companies were sitting on their cash reserves or squirreling them away in secret overseas tax havens. But even before the current administration came into power, more businesses were opening and hiring, or at least on the drawing boards for construction. Today there are lots of jobs available - primarily in call centers and warehouses (or "fulfillment centers," places where the things that you've ordered are pulled from inventory and boxed up for delivery to you), and primarily at low wages.

In the end I was making fairly good money at my last job, after five and a half years of essentially working with a negative cashflow. Several opportunities exist that pay comparable amounts, like the two that I am proceeding with. This third would possibly pay a good deal less, and would be temporary and possibly only part-time, but it would be a chance to do something I've always wanted to do. Knowing that there are other opportunities out there means I won't be locked in with whatever I end up with.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Two dreams

I had a vivid dream about the last day of work Saturday night. It was set in my old elementary school, and several of us were scrambling from room to room trying to shut things down. I forgot about the dream entirely when I awoke, and only remembered it hours later when I was thinking about a haunted house held in the elementary school years after it closed.

I had two more vivid dreams last night, and remembered them both. This time I wanted to write them down before I could forget.

1. I was going over some letters someone I had once been seeing had written me, and for some reason brought a magnet into close contact with them. The magnet caused hidden messages on the papers to be revealed - messages and images that had been on the paper before, or on paper close to the paper that was being exposed to the magnet. I tried this with some blank sheets of paper, and messages from decades earlier appeared - one that I remember vividly was a child's account of visiting a zoo, complete with watercolor images of a lion. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that overexposure to magnets caused these messages to melt and slough off the paper, leaving behind a watery mess.

2. I had another dream about work. This one was set after the last day of work, and I had to go back in to fill out some paperwork, as did about half a dozen other people I knew, including our top manager. Since, as in real life, our company no longer occupies the location, things were awkward. A new business had moved in and was refurnishing the place, building new rooms and halls. Even though they weren't fully operational yet, a number of their employees were already there. They had an aged rich hippie vibe to them - it was the sort of place where everyone practiced transcendental meditation, people wore gold lamé bellbottoms and Nehru jackets, and they probably marketed ayurvedic business-to-business solutions or something like that. Their lead manager - a woman with long curly hair who looked like a middle-aged yoga instructor - tried to convince several of us to join their company. At one point I decided to step out of the building. I wandered through a section that was still as we had left it, into a new corridor, past some unfamiliar people, and stepped out to a place far from where I thought I would be, looking out at buildings damaged by the June 13 tornado.

So. Melting hidden messages and aged hippies in gold lamé. Fun stuff.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

First snowflake

Well, it was more like a pellet of snow. It landed on the windshield as we pulled up at the house after church, and promptly melted. I saw one or two more farther away, but it wasn't enough to even be considered "flurries." If we were talking meteors, I would call it a "sporadic."

Yesterday I mowed the lawn. This morning I picked a tomato. A week or so ago we were running the air conditioner.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Beans, grass, and NEPA Gothic

I made my fifteen bean soup today. I've made it once before, then bought a second bag, which is just a whole bunch of different types of beans and a smoked ham flavoring packet. Last night I spotted it in the clearance section of the local supermarket, so I bought four more. Frankly, it looks more appetizing as the raw beans than the finished soup, which is mostly a gray-brown mush. But it tastes pretty good, and is good for you.

After having a lunch of fifteen bean soup, I mowed the lawn at my mom's house. This is a fairly big task, and I was able to do it all in one push with no breaks except to empty the grass catcher, scrape the grass out that was clogging the deck, and add more gas. This was because for the first time this season the temperature was cool and the grass was dry. Few things make lawn mowing more of a tedious, exhausting chore than high temperatures and wet grass.

While I was mowing the lawn I developed a story idea into a full-fledged NEPA Gothic horror story. I have long found Northeastern Pennsylvania sadly lacking in legends and traditions. The native tribes whose names we have adopted for local places were mostly just passing through, using the area for hunting and fishing but not living here year-round like they did in upstate New York or in Delaware (as did the Nentego tribe, arguably the coolest and most badass of all, from whom my hometown of Nanticoke takes its name), and many of the myths and legends of the immigrants who came to this area were lost several generations ago.  So I am trying to spin my own legendarium from elemental forces, native animals, embodiments of the terrain. Even if these spirits were able to come to some accommodation with the natives who lived (or at least walked, swam, hunted, danced, and sang) here for thousands of years, and with the newcomers who have made their own homes here for hundreds, how did they react to the rise of industry, of coal mining, steel production, the laying of railroad tracks? And what do they think of fracking and all the changes it has brought to the area?

The problem is, the central villain of the story (who eventually gets his comeuppance) is an excessively foul-mouthed, abusive S.O.B. He's based, not surprisingly, on someone I know in real life. (Well, not exactly "real" or "life", but close enough, and too close.) I'm trying to reign in his nasty mouth without destroying his speech patterns, and also trying to dial back his cosmic justice to something not quite so graphically horrible. If I can get through this, it may be the key to writing several other stories in a similar vein.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Day of stuff

Received my final payout from my old job just after midnight - severance, bonus pay, stuff like that. Promptly paid a bunch of bills. I'm good for a while, and my biggest annual bills are covered through the end of the year.

Did some job search stuff. Several irons in the fire. The more serious jobs have start dates weeks in the future, so I may try to pick up something between now and then.

Mowed the lawn over at my house across town. That may have been the last time for the season, but I have a feeling it wasn't. Replaced a few burned-out fluorescent bulbs with LED bulbs.

Bought some Mega Millions tickets. More than I meant to. Really, I meant to buy none, so any tickets are more than I meant to buy. We'll see what happens.

Started soaking some beans for fifteen bean soup. Tomorrow will be a day of cooking fifteen bean soup. Also finishing up some other job search stuff, and possibly mowing another lawn.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Solar-aligned structures in Northeastern Pennsylvania

While studying solar power a few years ago, I noticed two structures in Northeastern Pennsylvania which, while not solar powered, have obvious solar alignments.

When casino gambling was legalized in Pennsylvania, local horseracing track Pocono Downs was bought by the Mohegan tribe, which runs the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, and was rechristened  Mohegan Sun Pocono. The new casino complex, which includes some of the least intrusive lighting I have seen for any such structure, has a solar alignment and features an "arrowhead" pointed to solar south.

(The architect who designed the original Mohegan Sun also designed the Sun City resort in South Africa, which was brought to the world's attention in 1985 by Steven Van Zandt's anti-apartheid protest project "Sun City," featuring the all-star "[I Ain't Gonna Play] Sun City.")

Much closer to home for me is Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke. Outside of the Schulman Gallery are decorative pavement markings that are aligned with solar north.

Do the other markings indicate other key solar directions - the northernmost and southernmost directions of sunrise and sunset? I honestly don't know. I suppose I could figure it out...

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Solar power in Northeastern Pennsylvania

For a decade I have been talking about the idea of installing solar panels on the roofs (and parking lots) of shopping malls. For the most part that hasn't happened. Northeastern Pennsylvania gets about as much incident sunlight as Germany, a country that has made a major commitment to solar energy. But locally, high installation and material costs and relatively low electricity costs have kept solar from being a compelling alternative for most property owners.

Most...but not all.

A few years I was viewing satellite images of Northeastern Pennsylvania (as I routinely do) and I came across something interesting: the Gateway Shopping Center, a relatively minor strip mall in Edwardsville (directly across from the sadly moribund West Side Shopping Center, once a major shopping mall), had a roof covered with solar panels.

This was a decision made by property owner (and former racecar driver) Joe Amato at the time he purchased the shopping center. The panels generate electricity used to light the parking lot and the canopy over the stores. The project was featured on WNEP's Power to Save back in July of 2014.

On the other side of the Susquehanna, A. Rifkin, a manufacturer of secure reusable fabric money bags located off the Sans Souci Parkway between Nanticoke and Wilkes-Barre, also has a roof covered with solar panels - providing an annual electrical savings of $16,000, according to the Keystone Energy website.

Are there other solar projects dotted around Northeastern Pennsylvania? I will continue to keep an eye open - even if it is a satellite eye.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Early Autumn 2018

Peak color for Autumn in Northeastern Pennsylvania is expected in the next week or so, and most leaves are still green. Word is that the warm, wet weather has kept the trees from beginning to go into dormancy, which would cut off the production of chlorophyll and cause the leaves to show their true colors and then die. Nighttime temperatures have started to dip, so the leaves may begin to show some color before they fall with a sickening thud in a few weeks.

Sweet Autumn Clematis started to show up in our yard a few years ago. I had no idea what it was until a friend posted about it last month. While it is sold as a garden plant, for us this is something of an invasive perennial, swarming over our rhododendrons and smothering them. However, the thick, matted growth forms a soft bed that allows the neighborhood feral cats to relax comfortably seven feet off the ground.

In high-contrast monochrome

After roses have bloomed and dropped their petals, rose hips form. Blaze and Double Delight rose hips aren't especially noteworthy, but Royal Highness hips are a bright red-orange. Wile the pits - rose seeds - are large, the flesh is thick and tasty. Rose hips are supposed to be rich in vitamin C, but you would probably have to eat a lot of them to get any significant amount. 

Burning Bush is a variety of euonymus that turns bright crimson in the Autumn. Like everything else, mine is slow to change color this year. I pruned it back a bit this year - while it took a few decades to amount to anything much, in the last few years it has exploded with growth, enough to spread across the property line and reach towards the neighbors' cars in their driveway - and the bits that I pruned off quickly turned bright red.

I had to run an early-afternoon errand, and when I got back the sun was surrounded by a beautiful halo with two bright sundogs (or parhelia), one on either side of the sun. But by the time I got my camera and got back outside, the clouds had thickened up and the optical effects had disappeared. I later headed out to a sale at Boscov's in Wilkes-Barre - my mom likes their fudge, and the sale was offering discounts of ten to twenty-five percent. Unfortunately, so did hundreds of other people, and the Boscov's parkade was almost completely filled. I was able to snag a spot on the roof when someone else left. Boscov's rooftop parking deck offers some great views, so I tried to get some photos. In the one above, all the optical phenomena seem to be concentrated on the left side of the sun: the twenty-two degree halo, the parhelic circle (the curved band extending almost horizontally to the left), and the sundog (or parhelion) where the two appear to intersect. 

Across Franklin Street from Boscov's is St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. The large rose window makes a beautiful sight from the lower parking decks of Boscov's, and the bells play Westminster Chimes on the half- (or possibly quarter-) hour.

So will Autumn colors brighten up before Winter sets in? That remains to be seen.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Sears, Roebuck, and bankruptcy

It is sadly ironic that Sears is declaring bankruptcy during what would have been Wish Book delivery season a few decades ago.

I don't remember when exactly Wish Books, the special edition of the Sears catalogue with an emphasis on toys and gifts, were sent out. It was after school started, and probably no earlier than late September. I believe they were delivered before Halloween. As kids, we had several weeks to go through page after page of toys and imagine what fun we would have once Christmas came, as long as we got our preliminary lists to Santa before the Thanksgiving deadline.

(Postal carriers must have hated Wish Book delivery season, almost as much as they hated delivering the much thicker seasonal Sears catalogues, which were full of...well, mostly clothing. But all those things got delivered by the United States Postal Service, along with lesser catalogues from places like Montgomery-Ward and local retailers Stroud's and Jewelcor.)

Sears is being described as the Amazon of its time, and that's an apt comparison, except Amazon, as far as I know, has never offered houses - house construction kits, really. But you could order all sorts of things from Sears. Toys. Clothes. Housewares. Major appliances. Jewelry. Tools. Lawnmowers. Sheds. Tires. Glasses. Ventriloquist dummies. Houses, in kit form, in the early part of the twentieth century. I think my Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide came from Sears. And while the stores were a wonderland of available items, much more was available through the Sears catalogue.

(Historian Louis Hyman has written some amazing stuff about how revolutionary the Sears catalogue was for opening up retail markets to blacks and people of all ethnicities. You can find him at @louishyman on Twitter, or visit his website

Once upon a time it might have been inconceivable that Sears would ever go out of business, as inconceivable as it would be to think about Walmart or Amazon going out of business today. But even a few decades ago, Sears was feeling...stodgy. Hidebound. Old-fashioned. You knew it was a place your parents had shopped at, and your grandparents. It wasn't the coolest place to shop.*

Sears is on its way out, and earlier this year toy retailer Toys 'R' Us, which until recently had dominated the toy market after putting competitors Kids and Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby (later KB Toys) out of business, closed its doors. Both may have been victims of their own success. Sears and Toys 'R' Us each  dominated an older business model based on catalogue sales or bricks-and-mortar stores, and were unable to transform themselves to the new reality of online sales - and someone else muscled in and took their spot. I had a friend who worked for Toys 'R' Us in the late 1990's when they decided to try selling stuff on this newfangled "internet." The site that they had rolled out for the Christmas shopping season was quickly overwhelmed and crashed. They tried to keep a focus on online sales for a while but eventually gave up and ceded the online sales crown to (what was at the time) bookselling giant Amazon. Similarly, Sears, the king of catalog sales, should have been able to easily transition into online sales. But again, Amazon dominated.

Part of the problem may have been the same thing that happened in the CD/DVD manufacturing industry. For decades, places like my employer - Specialty Records, later WEA Manufacturing - were innovators, investing heavily in developing new technologies, new forms of media storage, new manufacturing techniques. But other companies were able to come along and build on what we had done without taking the risks or making the capital investments. And while streaming was clearly the next big thing in the early 2000s, WEA Manufacturing was sold off in the aftermath of the debacle of the AOL Time Warner merger** and bought out by CINRAM, a Canadian replicator with no interest in non-disc technologies. Any plans for streaming technology went out the window. CINRAM eventually sold the facility, which was permanently closed earlier this year. Now CDs and DVDs are rapidly losing market share as most consumers stream their movies and music. (Frankly, a facility dedicated to streaming technology would have probably employed 100 or so people at most, anyway. Most of the people employed at WEA Manufacturing and CINRAM were in the business of making discs. Without discs to be made, a lot fewer people would have been needed.) Other people were able to build on our experience and do what we did for far less. And when the world changed, we weren't able to respond to the change.

*A few years ago I shepherded a soon-to-be-orphan through a difficult spot in her life, and I found myself at a Sears store several times with her, trying to resolve an issue involving a bed that her mother had ordered before she went into the hospital. The order became terribly confused, bits were delivered, other bits were backordered, and the whole thing had been paid for in a way that couldn't be refunded easily. While the two of us were at Sears trying to get this resolved one Friday night, we noticed a group of teens idly hanging around the store and wandering its aisles. We decided that there were few places less cool to hang out as a teen on a Friday night than Sears.

**A quote from this summarizes this whole post:
The business was up against a phenomenon I refer to as transient advantage; namely when a combination of capabilities that at one point made a firm a leader, erodes and is replaced by the next form of competitive advantage.
Which is either terribly insightful or terribly obvious.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Return of the Moon

Clouds briefly allow lunar viewing opportunities on Saturday, October 13.

Lunar seeing has been pretty lousy here the last few weeks. But last night and tonight we had a bit of clear weather that allowed opportunities to view the Moon.

Saturday, October 13, 2018, 7:48 PM Eastern Time

Sunday,October 14, 2018, 7:50 PM Eastern Time
A lot of people think that the Full Moon is the best time to observe and photograph the Moon, but it isn't. While the Moon will be at its brightest then, there are relatively few shadows to speak of, so the overall impression will be very flat. Shadows are most dramatic at the terminator, the line dividing the parts of the Moon that are in daylight to the parts that are in shadow.

Detail of the upper portion of the terminator on October 14, taken from a different image than the one above.

Detail of the lower portion of the terminator on October 14, from yet another image of the Moon.
Who can say when the next good night for seeing the Moon will be? Not me, that's for sure.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The global slide into fascism

One of the questions that bugged students for years when they first learned about Nazi Germany and Hitler's rise to power was: How? How did Germany, a nation world-renowned for its scientists, philosophers, musicians, and artists, slide into Nazism? How did the populace of Germany stand idly by or tacitly support the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party? And could such a thing happen again?

The second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century has been an object lesson for us all. Now we are much closer to understanding what happened eighty years ago - because we're watching it happen again, all over the world.

This is another thing that future historians are going to try to puzzle out. They will be viewing these years from a privileged position, but will also be getting their information in fragments, seeing only those bits that survived, or those that can be extracted from the great data midden. Their position will also be prejudiced, informed and distorted by whatever happens between now and then. Good luck with that.

All over the world, democracies are voluntarily transforming themselves into authoritarian regimes. The United States of America went from being a nation that overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama - twice - to a nation that allowed Donald Trump access to the White House through an Electoral College victory and popular vote loss. The United Kingdom elected to leave the European Union through the "Brexit" vote - the consequences of which many voters did not even try to understand until after the results were announced. All across Europe and elsewhere, strongmen are rising to power through demagoguery. The trend seems to be gaining momentum.

(In the United States, the Republican Party - which once proudly called itself the "Party of Lincoln," but has now devolved into the Party of Trump - has settled on a new boogieman: ANTIFA, or AntiFa, a contraction of "anti-fascism" or "anti-fascists" - which, depending on who you ask, is either a violent and dangerous mob dedicated to destroying all that is good and true, or a catch-all term for any group or individual that stands against neo-Nazis, white nationalists, "Proud Boys," the tiki torch brigade, and other fascist groups that have allied themselves with the Party of Trump, and Donald Trump in particular.)

Is it zeitgeist (the German term for "spirit of the time," literally "time ghost," which I find so much cooler) - a sort of global unspoken mutual agreement that the time of democracy is over, and a new era of strongmen and authoritarian regimes is upon us, and something to be embraced? Is some master manipulator (*cough*Vladimir Putin*cough*) pulling strings and swaying public opinion through a relentless and sophisticated campaign run through social media, but ready to be backed up with military action? Or is something else going on, something no one even suspects yet?

I don't know. I don't know if anyone does. So for the time being, some of us will continue to stand for democracy and against fascism, and others will continue to do their best to suppress voter participation and embrace strongmen and authoritarianism.

Which side will win?

That remains to be seen.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Mr. Rogers stamp: Get it while you can

Nearly seven months ago I wrote about the release of a stamp honoring Mister Rogers. My plan at the time was to make this my go-to stamp, to use it exclusively on all my mail. To spread Mister Rogers' attitude of support, acceptance, and love with each piece of mail I sent. I would stock up on these stamps and buy more every chance I got.

It didn't work out that way.

The day the stamp was released I hustled to my local post office. "Do you have the Mister Rogers stamp?" I asked. "Yeah, let me get that for you." The clerk checked the drawer. "Wait, we must have them in the back."  He called to a co-worker, who looked at him and said "Well, yeah, but...remember what they said before..."

After a few uncomfortable minutes I was sold a booklet of Mister Rogers stamps. Twenty of them, at a price of fifty cents per stamp, good for First-Class postage "Forever," or at least until the United States Postal Service - or whatever replaces them after they are destroyed by the current administration - decides that "Forever" doesn't apply anymore. I began using them immediately, and realized I would be needing more soon.

I had to mail something a week later and I asked about the Mister Rogers stamp. Nope, fresh out. Everybody wants them. Can't keep 'em in stock.

I tried a bigger post office. Nope. Can't hold onto them. None to be had.

I made a point of stopping in at every post office I could, every chance I could. Same story, over and over. Fresh out, they would say with a laugh.

I don't know if there really was a run on the stamps, or if the postal workers were snatching them up for themselves and selling them at a profit to collectors. I've seen that happen often enough with Record Store Day premiums (not by the record store employees) and "chase figures" in toy collections (by the toy store employees.) Whatever the cause, for nearly seven months, I have not been able to track down these stamps.

USPS has a website through which you can see all the currently available stamps. You can order stamps from the site, if you don't mind paying shipping and handling for them, which I do. Several times over the last seven months I have thought about ordering the Mister Rogers stamp from there, but have never gotten around to it.

Yesterday I heard that the price of a First Class "Forever" stamp is expected to increase to 55 cents. So now seemed like a good time to buy these stamps.

Unfortunately, the USPS store is fresh out of Mister Rogers stamps.

That's not entirely true. As of this writing, if you search the site you will find several Mister Rogers stamp products available - framed art, first day covers, things like that. And then you'll find the Mister Rogers Press Sheet with Die Cuts.

Six sheets of Mister Rogers stamps all on one page. Die cut so you can actually remove the stamps. (Some stamps have press sheets that are sold without die cuts, mainly for the collectors' market, but no such press sheets are available for Mister Rogers.) So I'm getting my Mister Rogers stamps. One hundred and twenty of them. A hedge against inflation, and a statement made with every stamp used.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Current events: Lynzy Lab, "A Scary Time"

Blogs serve many functions. Online diaries, citizen journalism, street level history, and many more. I've been using mine mostly to document my own life, and I've been ignoring most of the large-scale things going on around me.

There is so much going on. Donald Trump. Mass shootings and their aftermath. Voter registration, voter suppression, and voting rights. Record setting storm after record setting storm. Jamal Khashoggi, an exiled Saudi Arabian journalist living as a a permanent resident in the United States and working as a columnist for the Washington Post who was frequently critical of the current Saudi rulership, entered the Saudi embassy in Istanbul and was allegedly murdered and dismembered by an organized hit squad. Numerous critics of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin have been found dead - the most recent, Nikolai Glushkov, strangled with a dog leash in London. Viktoria Marinova, a journalist investigating corruption in Bulgaria, was found raped and murdered.

Brett Kavanaugh, a beer-drinking, whiny, arrogant, entitled frat boy accused of sexual assault when he was seventeen (and very drunk) and she was fifteen, was approved to the Supreme Court over the objections and concerns of many people who had known him well but were not included in his background check. The fight was blistering, with hours of testimony by his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and Kavanaugh responding by having a meltdown while reading from prepared remarks and engaging in conduct that demonstrated his lack of judicial temperament. After his second, ceremonial swearing-in, Donald Trump apologized to Brett Kavanaugh for everything he had been put through. He referred to Dr. Ford's testimony as a "hoax set up by the Democrats," and, noting the current climate of intolerance of sexual assault and unwillingness of women to lay back and take it without complaining (or reporting), Trump stated that this is a "very scary time for young men in America."

On Sunday, October 7, Lynzy Lab (@mercedeslynz on Twitter) released a song called "A Scary Time" that tries to capture the feeling of the time.It went instantly viral on Twitter. Tonight she will be performing it on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Here it is from YouTube (


Someday historians will try to make sense of what happened in and to the United States in the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century. I can't offer them any shortcuts. All I can say is: pay attention to everything. This time is a mess, and the explanations may be in the details. And...we're sorry. We're sorry we couldn't stop all this from happening. We tried. We failed.

We should have tried harder.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


People at work used to laugh when I would come in on my "Monday" (whatever day that might be) and say "Thank God, now it's time to relax." I wasn't joking.

When I first took on my last job, I was glad to have a job, but I was not too excited about the pay. It was actually paying me less than I had been making on unemployment, which itself was based on a fraction of what I had been making in my Mold/Bond Operator job at the DVD manufacturer, which was in turn a fraction of what I had been making in my DVD Asset Management job at the same company. I worked out that if I took the job at the rate that was being offered, even if I were to cut down my expenses to nearly bare-bones levels, I would still have a negative cash flow and would use up all my liquid reserves in four years.

I was right.

In the fifth year, I had to tap a reserve I really didn't want to tap to pay some big annual bills. Ditto in the sixth year, last year.

Then things changed.

In September of last year I began working in a campaign that was paying real money. Not just an hourly rate - there was overtime being made available, and very generous bonuses. For the first time since I started in April of 2012, I was bringing in a surplus. I could pay all my bills and have something extra left over. The money didn't start rolling in all at once, but once the bonuses started to flow, everything felt good. In May, during a one-on-one meeting with my supervisor, I told him how happy I was to finally be making real money again. I had been able to buy my mom a real Mother's Day gift for the first time in years, and I was thinking of going out and splurging on myself by buying some new pants and shoes.

Shortly after that we were informed that our workplace would be shutting down at the end of September.

I reviewed my pay records as of last Friday, the last regular pay we will be receiving, which covered the period up to Sunday, September 30. In the first nine months of 2018, I earned more money than I had in all of 2017 or any of the years since I had started in 2012. And this isn't counting the bonuses I will be receiving in my final payout next week. For the first time since 2015, I won't have to tap any reserves to pay my big end-of-year annual bills.

If I could have continued with that campaign, if I could have accepted the work-from-home option as so many of my co-workers did, I would have. But for me, working from home is not a practical option. So I now am searching for something that doesn't require me to work from home.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Spinning wheels

I spent most of the day doing stuff - several loads of wash for my mom, running them up to the laundromat to be dried. I had some stuff that I ordered for her waiting at a store, and while I was there I got a haircut.

I guess that's job search related.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Tonight I heard some odd noises on the back porch after I had put out food for the neighborhood feral cats. (There are two, Little Girl and Mister Black. Sometimes Mister Yellow comes by for food and to vie for Little Girl's affections. Sometimes it works. She is safely unable to have kittens, thanks to a trap-spay/neuter-release program eight years ago.) What I heard on the porch were not cats but enormous raccoons, the size of medium-large dogs - let's say wolves. Two of them, squeezed together side-by-side in the doorway, eating the dry food. Each time they chewed they seemed to be snarling. They stared at me with their bandit-mask eyes for a bit, and then the second one reached out with a clever forepaw and started to drag the bowl of cat food off the porch. I yelled and approached them, and they retreated from the porch.

Monday, October 08, 2018

NEPA Events in October

There are quite a few events going on in Northeastern Pennsylvania that I'd like to attend or take part in. Here's a starting list:

October 17: Burlesque, comedy, and music at The Keys

Through the Sideshow Gathering, I met quite a few burlesque performers, mostly from the Washington D.C. area. I know of only one other burlesque event in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and it was several years ago at a place I had never heard of before and haven't heard of since. This event will be at The Keys, 244 Penn Avenue in Scranton. It starts at 8:30, and admission is $5.00. 21 and over.

October 20: Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces

The Scranton Iron Furnaces, located at 159 Cedar Avenue, Scranton, are a relic of an older time, The annual bonfire there is something I have wanted to attend for many years but haven't. The bonfire goes for 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Admission is $20 on the day of the event, or $16.52 in advance ($15.00 plus a service fee.) Tickets can be purchased here.

Event Page on Facebook

October 26: Open Mic Night at the Dietrich, featuring Hal Pratt

The Dietrich is an historic theater located at 60 East Tioga Street in Tunkhannock. Sign-ups for the open mic begin at 6:30, and performances begin at seven. The featured performer will be storyteller Hal Pratt. Admission is free. This will be the last open mic of the season.

Listing on Dietrich Theater page

October 31 (tentative confirmed): Be Daring Open Mic & Halloween Costume Party

Held the last Wednesday of every month at Adezzo, 515 Center Street, Scranton. However, as this will place it on Halloween itself, the date is subject to change. Sign-ups for a limited number of slots begin at 6:30 - sometimes earlier - and performances begin at 7:00. Admission is free.

Be Daring Open Mic community page
Be Daring Open Mic & Halloween Costume Party event page

There are lots of other events going on in NEPA throughout the rest of the month, too many to list here. Be sure to check them out!

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Summer in October

I attended the Fall 2018 edition of The Writers Showcase at the Olde Brick Theater in Scranton last night. It was a good turnout, and I got to catch up with some old friends. The readings ran until a little after 8:30, but I wound up hanging out and talking with my friends until nearly 10:00. Some of the things I heard - stories told to me in confidence - left me feeling like Hamlet's father's ghost.

But that I am forbid 
To tell the secrets of my prison house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word 
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, 
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, 
Thy knotted and combined locks to part, 
And each particular hair to stand on end
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine. 

Speaking of which, there's a dead porcupine in front of my house, hit by a car. Poor woodland critter was probably forced out of its normal territory by the almost-complete local road project. It's been many years since I've seen a porcupine of any sort, alive or dead. There are quills blowing all over the street adjacent to the one with the dead fellow. I've never seen quills before, either. I picked a few up out of the road - they're clean, and I figured nobody else needed them right now.

Porcupine quills, approximately 3-5 cm (1.25 - 2 inches) long

It was a warmish night last night, no jacket required, which is unusual from the end of the first week of October in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Today is unseasonably warm, in the 80s with high humidity - weather more like summer than fall. This is apparently the new normal, and conditions are expected to get much worse as time goes by.

an IPCC special report on the impacts of 
global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels
 and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways,
 in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change,
 sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Day of rage

A lot of people are angry today that something that was an inevitable consequence of the November 8, 2016 election happened today.

Let's take that rage and turn it into action on November 6, 2018.

The deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania is October 9, 2018.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Nanticoke Bonfire, October 4 2018

The fire started off slowly, possibly because of the rain earlier in the day, and it started to rain shortly after the bonfire caught. But the puddles on the ground just made for some nice reflections.