The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Meanwhile...(My Moot Points)

There has been much ado in the news about Ms. Terri Schiavo and her plight. A heart condition brought about brain damage to this woman fifteen years ago. She has been in what the doctors call a 'persistant vegatative state' for those fifteen years. As most people with partners in their lives, Ms. Schiavo and her husband had discussed the possibilities of life, deciding what to do in such an instance. Her husband has been trying to carry out what he knows to be her wishes since then, trying to disconnect her from artificial means of life support: a feeding tube.

On the other side of the coin are Ms. Schiavo's parents, the Schindlers. My heart goes out to them - they have, essentially, lost a child, yet not lost her. The have been grieving, yet not been able to say goodbye. They have been fighting Mr. Schiavo's attempts to carry out his wife's wishes. The tell the press that she can be rehabilitated, citing the recent spontaneaous recovery, complete with speech, of a patient who had been in a similar state as Ms. Schiavo's for over twenty years.

With constant visits from dedicated parents, had there been was a possibility of rehabilitation, certainly we would see something in fifteen years. She has made no improvement, and specialists say she cannot, that the part of her brain that would respond to rehabilitative attempts is now missing, that space in her head filled with fluid. Ms. Schiavo isn't there anymore. It is time to let her go.

So the people line up outside Ms. Schiavo's Hospice as court hearings decide whether Mr. Schiavo can have this feeding tube removed, some on the side of quality of life and then we have the Religious Right, who think not. Governor Jeb Bush tried to stop the court decision last year to allow Mr. Schiavo to finally let his wife rest in peace. At the last minute he introduced what became known as "Terri's Law" which forbade such merciful action. That law was knocked down as unconstitutional. Rightly, it was decided the government should have no input in personal decisions. (That I think Mr. Bush knew this, that I think he invoked what he knew was an unconstitutional law anyway to appease the Religious Right, is a moot point.)

The fact of the matter is, the Schiavos and the Schindlers (her parents) keep the courts busy. Last Friday Judge Greer gave his ruling that Mr. Schiavo could order the removal of his wife's feeding tube in a number of days - the actual delay was to allow the Schindlers to say goodbye, to order Last Rites, and otherwise prepare for her merciful departure. (That I think this was a political decision on Judge Greer's part, knowing full well Ms. Schiavo's death would not be immediate upon removal of her feeding tube, and that there would be enough time naturally for the Last Rites and goodbyes by the Schindlers, is a moot point.)

Religious Righters have come from all over the country to be on hand during last week's court hearings. I cannot help but wonder how many of these 'supporters' actually entered the Hospice to visit, to aid in the rehabilitation, to even speak to Ms. Schiavo. I suspect none. Ms. Schiavo has become one more shrine for these people to visit, like the sun-streaked window in Clearwater that appeared to be the Madonna. And sadly, Ms. Schiavo is every bit as responsive.

But the Religious Right has to stick its nose into the private business of the Schindlers and Mr. Schiavo. The language of the news stories has changed now. Rather than speaking of allowing Ms. Schindler to die, as was her wish expressed to her husband, reports now speak of her husband "killing" Ms. Schiavo; the Religious Right is calling it murder. Words are important, words are weapons when wielded by those with a case to prove. (That I feel their case is wrong, that, without artificial intervention fifteen years ago Ms. Schiavo would mercifully gone on to her afterlife, that her family would have finally been able to grieve their loss, that Mr. Schiavo could also grieve his loss, is a moot point.)


Meanwhile, the Schindlers have pursued one delay after another, the final one announced this evening.They have already asked the court to assign another person to be responsible for Ms. Schiavo other than her husband. This was denied. Now, on their daughter's behalf, the Shindlers want to file for a divorce from Mr. Schiavo. Certainly, they feel, this will bring about another delay. (That I feel this is ridiculous, that the court will see it as the delay tactic that it is, that this is merely one more attempt to assign someone else as Ms. Schiavo's guardian is a moot point.)

I can only hope that Ms. Schiavo has been in such a state that she has no idea what has been going on. What torture it would be to live in the shell of a body that can only lie there. I believe this is the case, else she would have found, in fifteen years, a means to communicate with her family, with her doctors, with those who have been caring for her.

This case serves as a reminder, though. Living Wills are imperative. Write yours. I have written mine. I have discussed with my children that I do not want to be kept alive by artificial means if my prognosis is to fold up in a Hospice bed indefinitely without knowledge, without feelings. (However, the fact that I have also told them that I am not going is a moot point...)

Smokey

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Care and Feeding of Techies

I didn't know I was raising a techie. I should have. He loved to take things apart and now and then he'd put them together again with only a minimum of leftover parts. We'd get him really great toys, and he would get cranky when his father would play with them. (After all, he'd been in school all afternoon, being forced to do what everyone else was doing rather than what he wanted. Who could blame him?)

His father's idea, of course, was to pass on to his son the wonders of mechanical and technical stuff. To that end, he had Capselas - plastic rounds with various gears and stuff in them that, when connected, could create any number of things. It was French, I remember, and we bought it out of a mark-down bin after Christmas one year. He had a little programmable ATV type thing - complete with a trailer - upon which he would place dog biscuits and send the thing off to treat the dog, who was deathly afraid of it. And he had Legos. Now, most folks wouldn't associate Legos with a techie - but the sheer number of parts and pieces (whatever the vacuum cleaner didn't get) was mind boggling. Out of little pieces can grow great things. We bought several sets of various sizes, threw away the boxes, and poured them all into a 5 pound plastic pickle pail we begged from McDonald's. It was slightly less than half full. I had wanted to fill the entire bucket and see what this boy would come up with, but he grew up before it could happen. Sigh. They do grow up too fast.


But I digress. When the first inkling comes that you may be raising a techie (how many 8 year olds do you know who play chess? And win - against grown-ups? ) you realize that his brain is probably wired a bit differently than most folk. Now pay attention here - this is important: Don't expect techiness to show up on a report card. Sometimes it will, but don't expect it. Science projects and lab classes may bore the budding techie -- and that is one thing one must never do. NEVER bore a techie.

What will show up is a curiosity about everything, a hunger to know. This is the kid that will dig up a seed two days after he plants it to see what takes place underground before the green part shows above ground. He will collect pieces/parts of things and put them together in strange ways - to the onlooker. In his head he is creating a solution to a problem no one but he is aware exists. He may read biographies at an early age and find heros in scientists, inventors, innovators and such.

You may also note that your techie is a 'hands on' person. Jigsaw puzzles may come easily to a techie because his perception is great. Challenge the techie with an all black circular jigsaw puzzle and you may keep him busy for a few minutes.

The care of techies? Look out for his physical needs. He doesn't often have time to get a haircut or get his laundry done. You know you can't tell him when to give up his project and go to bed (unless this is a child techie in training - in which case, by all means, exercise parental authority and strong-arm him into bed at a reasonable time. But let him stay up with his projects during vacation or on weekends, still requiring his presence in the daytime for his usual chores, etc. It won't take him long to figure out the human brain is much more reliable with sufficient sleep. After that, you'll probably still have to remind him, but if the reminder takes the form of a one hour, then a fifteen minute warning, it is better accepted.) When small, it will probably be necessary to remind the little techie to put his clothes in the hamper, go outside now and then and get some fresh air, and even to come to the table to eat. When grown, of course, none of this reminding will make much difference, but you can do it anyway, if you like.

Just don't nag. Techies have a way of shutting off reception of voices that seem to be saying the same thing all the time. If you want to continue a meaningful relationship, speak of many things and nag and grump as little as possible.

I cannot stress enough how awful it is for a techie to be bored. Left to his own devices, a techie seldom enters this state, and it may be that to avoid boredom he changes projects often, going from one to another and possibly picking up a third or fourth project at the same time. In his head, each project is related to the others, if only because HE is working on all three or four or ten...

Feeding? Most techies will eat most anything. Fast food fills the bill, but if you are stocking the pantry for a techie, go heavy on the healthy hand-held food. Keep coffee, cola or other stimulants under wraps for the younger ones (who need more sleep) but a full grown techie will have his own favorites, and if you watch closely, you will find out whether you are dealing with a coffee/cola powered techie, a tea techie, or a techie who doesn't consciously choose - just absorbs what is left out for him. Tricky? Yep. But not nearly as tricky as a teenage girl. For that be grateful -- unless your particular techie IS a teenage girl.

Techies do come in both genders, of course. I am of the old school, and refer to an unknown person as 'he' rather than the recent grammatically hideous 'they' when referring to the unknown person (singular, yet!) My only option would have been to he/she his/her throughout, and that is tedious for me. I much prefer to annoy feminists and those who insist we be politically correct. I would rather be grammatically correct and let the femmies and PC people figure it out for themselves.

Smokey

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Rules Number Three and Four

It has been brought to my attention that, while I have been describing my encounters within and with Mozilla for a few days, I never once mentioned how one can get Mozilla. As I said a few days ago, Techie Kid installed it on my computer. I really had no idea where in the world to get it until, prodded my an e-mail (thank you BH) I contacted Techie Kid via e-mail and found out that anyone can wander around the Mozilla site (Mozilla.org) and, if this is something one wants for his/her own use, install from there. That leads us to Rule Number Three:

Thou Shalt Know How to Find Stuff.

I've always recognized that Rule Number One is very true - no one can know everything. That makes it more important for all of us to know where to look for answers.

It used to be the Dewey Decimal System was taught in school. The Dewey Decimal System is that universal coding on library books, most notably on the spine of the book, so the library patron can find information by the card files (kept within watch of the librarian with a stack of scratch paper and pencils) or locate the book itself. I think there is another system being used now. I know that with computers in the library, in large cities a certain book may be located in various library branches, telling the searcher when the book they are looking for is 'out' and other things one might want to know about the book. I was never big on using the Dewey Decimal System. I preferred to get near the book I was looking for and browse - a time-taking hobby that resulted in learning a lot of things I would not have learned otherwise - rather like reading the dictionary or using the random link at Snopes.com.

Now I teach those who wander into the Computer Learning Center how to Google. You can find most anything there. But there are some things that one must learn from a living and breathing techie.

To this end, one must have a techie among one's acquaintances. I am one of the fortunate ones - I have Techie Kid in the family, and he of the benevolent spirit, has been bent on making me a modern Mom since he was about 8 years old. He knows my limitations, that I scored 16 (out of 100) on my Abstract Spatial Analysis test, and grumbles little when he tries to explain things to me the first, second and occasionally the third time...But what about folks who don't have a Techie Kid?

Network. Find one somewhere in your circle of friends and/or co-workers. Go to the family reunion and see if you don't have a second cousin or an in-law of a second cousin you can relate to. Failing that, find a small computer repair shop not affiliated with a computer manufacturer or major store that sells computers and wander in. Pay attention. Techies mostly speak Geek, and you will need to learn a few words of it yourself. It's not hard. Don't be afraid to ask for definitions. For heaven's sake, don't nod your head and pretend you understand when you do not. Techies will take you at face value. If you say you understand, they will believe you. Make sure that, if you indicate you do understand that you really do. Make an acquaintance you can e-mail in times of need. Don't be afraid you will burden your techie of choice. One who willingly gives you contact information (e-mail address, phone number, business card) won't mind hearing from you at all. (In fact, I have it on good authority that techies periodically meet and compare notes about the questions we (non-techies) ask. We are giving them fodder for these meaningful meetings when we call.) So Rule Number Four is

Thou Shalt Know Someone Who Knows Stuff.

Next: The Care and Feeding of Techies

Smokey

Friday, February 25, 2005

Rule Number Two

Two relatives - both older than I - responded to my entry about my Mozilla installation asking me what in the world is a Mozilla. I guess there are some on my mailing list(s) who are less aware of what is going on in the techie world than I. I will share.

Okay, Mozilla is a browser. A browser is like Internet Explorer (IE), that blue 'e' on the desktop of most computers. IE is a Windows thing. It is not much of a secret that Microsoft (as in Windows, as in IE) has always had a friendly sort of competition with MacIntosh (as in Apple) - Windows being the most popular choice among the business folk, Apple often the choice of artsy folk. Having used both early on in my friendship with computers, I found Apple almost childishly easy, but opted for the more widely used Windows for compatibility. In the past few years, the compatibility problem has all but disappeared, so there really isn't so much difference in the computer world -- or so I thought. There is more than Apples and Oranges.

If one is even loosely associated with techies, one learns that over the years there has been an increasing discontent developing against Windows - against Microsoft in its conglomerate entirety. Windows is expensive, Windows is automatically pre-installed in most PC computer systems one buys off the shelf. Windows has over-run the market with a product that has security breaches (hence the updates) and updates to correct updates. Windows - probably because of its enforced popularity - is also the greatest vehicle for computer threats such as viruses, worms, and other nasties. Windows based programs and websites most often carry spyware - send out 'tracking cookies' that reveal to some source you probably don't know access to your computer activities and other sneaky things.

For this and for many reasons, techies have looked elsewhere. There ARE other operating systems other than Apple and Microsoft. And there is a movement afoot for free software (which isn't really free - someone created it and someone should get paid for it -- but this will be another blog entry at another time) and for getting around the internet (indeed, the universe) without Microsoft products -- such as IE.

Mozilla is one of those options. Mozilla is the product of a bunch of techies sitting around saying, "hmmm... what if..." and seems to be highly regarded in techie circles. It is innovative, and seems to change with the times. Although I am still exploring its features, I see that it is easily adaptable to the needs of its user (more about which as I get more into it.)

The important thing to remember is that there ARE options, and before a computer-interested person wanders into a store and plops down what is still a sizeable stack of currency, one should network among one's friends and acquaintances to find a techie or two and discuss what you want, what you want to do with this computer, and how best to do it. Don't bristle if your techie turns you away from Microsoft. The innovations seem to be coming from outside the conglomerate. You want to be cutting edge with your new computer, don't you? Then remember Rule Number Two:

Thou Shalt Know What is Available

Smokey

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Rule Number One

Well, Mozilla, I will be making you my own soon. It will require a lot of fiddling, and I can't seem to get used to the dashboard being on the left side -- but I expect to be exploring you this weekend. Techie Kid will be visiting friends, so I will feel a little more free to hands-on play with it - change the appearance, read this and that about the browser itself, explore the links, and maybe even try writing something that requires some here-to-there information, letting me keep references on 'tabs' to bring up or hide as necessary. It's not that Techie Kid would interfere with my hands on exploration -- he seems to encourage it - but sometimes I hear one of his long deep sighs, and I can see him bite his tongue, trying to keep his mouth shut and let me find out on my own where this tab will take me, or what happens if I... well, you get the idea.

Anyway, if I goof up wandering around on my own this weekend, Techie Kid is still around, and after an appropriate amount of grumbling, he will right my wrongs and let me continue.

It seems the older we are, the more we require ourselves to know about new things, but, conversely, also the less likely we are to want to change things - on the computer, on other things in our lives. One of the tricks to getting around on a computer is to be brave enough to change this or that, this key or that stuff that isn't on the keyboard proper - and not be afraid the thing will blow up.

Right about here someone other than I would insert some information about how, basically, a computer works. That's what they did in computer classes in the early '90s. "This here," the instructor would say, "is the CPU. It is the heart and soul of the computer." (I have always wondered about the 'soul' of a computer. If anyone can fill me in on that -- well, please feel free!)

"This," the instructor continued, "is the power cord. It must be plugged in for the computer to function. And this is the monitor," said he, motioning widely to the 12 inch screen.

At the time, a 'mouse' was just being introduced as an alternative to the keyboard for navigation. Because it was such a physical class (as I recall, we even got to peek inside the CPU case!) for a class trip (?) we visited the 'computer lab' on campus, where these wizards were working with this highly advanced technology, writing term papers and saving them to 5 inch floppies. Someday, we all muttered under our breaths, we too would be working with cutting edge technology. But what is all this 01 01 01001 stuff?

When people would ask, "Do you know anything about computers?" the proud student would say, "Sure. I just took a college class on computers." (And didn't we feel important - even if a wee bit scared that someone might ask us how to actually DO something on the blessed thing!) They told us very little back then. The possibilities of computers were just beginning to dawn on the industry in those days. Things were changing so fast, even a brand new textbook would be immediately out of date because new trends and inventions were not immediately translatable to public eyes or ears. Not to mention fingertips...I guess what we should have been taught is how not to be afraid to put our hands on this technology and dive in.

Frankly, I don't care about the 0101 stuff, the technical world of programming, that sort of thing. What I want is a tool I can use to write, to research, to play, and (to sum it all up) to communicate. Let someone else understand how and why it works. All I care about is that it does. That is what my computer is for.

I will let the younger folk take care of it if it breaks down, or if something better needs to be installed (although installations and updates have also become very simple these days!)

Maybe that is Rule Number One for older folk trying to work with computers:

Thou Needst Not Know Everything.

Smokey

Monday, February 21, 2005

Ta-Da!

Today, I - unprose - Smokey - Mother of a Techie!- have finally entered the new Millenium. My Techie son just installed, on this very computer, Mozilla. It is totally alien to me, but I am friendly, a bit of a diplomat, and curious. Mozilla and I should be friends in no time.

I've wandered around Mozilla a bit today, checking out this and that. I don't know if it is a part of Mozilla itself or something left over from the installation, but there are many interesting links that I will be checking out. I hope to make this blog a more interesting place - I will have at my fingertips the references I need to make more pithy comments, and those references will most likely be the springboard for more interesting topics.

I was chastised for not making my entries more - well, daily. By hook or by crook, my son the techie is determined to keep me busy and to that end, he has also passed along to me several books from the O'Reilly catalog, suggesting that perhaps I can write reviews. Well, now that is a real possiblity.

When I spent the better part of my disposable income on this computer last year, I purposely set it up to be a writer's tool. I plan to eventually support myself free-lancing, I keep saying. But you know, I haven't done a whole lot toward that end in the last year. I am still healing from a life of bad stuff, and I have recently recognized that sometimes that sort of being sick can be paralyzing. Even stuff one knows one should be taking care of can fall into the corner of 'not today' - which can last a long long time. That, of course, is added to the pile of various and scary shames, in that corner over there. Fixing that is one more thing that ends up waiting to be done, eventually landing in the Corner of Shame - already too heavily populated - as one more thing to deal with. It spirals upward if one doesn't make a definite effort.


I am getting better. Techie Son is nudging me forward. I am reminded once again that our kids can teach us a lot if we give them the chance, if we pay attention, and if we clear our minds of all the presets and templates we've installed through the years. Kinda like approaching Mozilla when one is really quite comfortable with Windows.


Smokey.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Wright's Right

I received an e-mail the other day that included a prayer spoken by a Reverend Wright at the opening of the Kansas Legislature on January 23. The e-mail asked that I forward this to my entire address book. Anything that asks this of me is immediately checked by the Urban Legend folks at Snopes.com -where the entire prayer was printed with the following comment:

"Heavenly Father, we come before you to ask your forgiveness. We seek your direction and your guidance. We know your word says, "Woe to those who call evil good." But that's what we've done.
We've lost our spiritual equilibrium. We have inverted our values. We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of moral pluralism. We have worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.

We've exploited the poor and called it a lottery. We've neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. In the name of choice, we have killed our unborn. In the name of right to life, we have killed abortionists.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it taxes. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, oh, God, and know our hearts today. Try us. Show us any wickedness within us. Cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of the State of Kansas, and that they have been ordained by you to govern this great state.

Grant them your wisdom to rule. May their decisions direct us to the center of your will. And, as we continue our prayer and as we come in out of the fog, give us clear minds to accomplish our goals as we begin this Legislature. For we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.




Rev. Wright had been invited to serve as the House's guest chaplain by Rep. Anthony Powell, a Wichita Republican who was also a member of Wright's church. Accordingly, Rev. Wright composed a prayer, read it at the opening of the legislature on January 23, and departed, unaware of the ruckus he had created until his church secretary called him on his car phone to ask him what he had done.

Reportedly, one Democrat (not "a number of legislators") walked out in protest, three others gave speeches critical of Wright's prayer, and another blasted Wright's "message of intolerance." House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (also a Democrat) asserted that the prayer "reflects the extreme, radical views that continue to dominate the House Republican agenda since right-wing extremists seized control of the House Republican caucus last year." Rep. Jim Long, a Democrat from Kansas City, said that Wright "made everyone mad." But Rep. Powell, who had invited Wright in the first place, claimed that House Democrats were only trying to make political points with their criticism and affirmed that he supported the theme of the prayer.

Rev. Wright said afterwards: "I certainly did not mean to be offensive to individuals, but I don't apologize for the truth." His staff stopped counting the telephone calls that came from every state and many foreign countries after the first 6,500. Wright appeared on dozens of radio shows and was the subject of numerous TV and print news reports, and his prayer stirred up controversy all over again when it was read by the chaplain coordinator in the Nebraska legislature the following month. Wright later explained, "I thought I might get a call from an angry congressman or two, but I was talking to God, not them. The whole point was to say that we all have sins that we need to repent -- all of us . . . The problem, I guess, is that you're not supposed to get too specific when you're talking about sin."

What to make of all the fuss? Syndicated religion columnist Terry Mattingly probably explained it best when he wrote: "The easy answer is that he read a prayer about sin. The complicated answer is that Wright jumped into America's tense debate about whether some things are always right and some things are always wrong."

Some people get upset when politics intrude into religion; others are irritated when religion intrudes into politics. As in war, the "intruder" is always the guy on the other side.

Additional information:

Joe Wright (Central Christian Church)

Pastor Wright's Prayer of Repentance (MP3 format)

Last updated: 21 June 2000"

I always wonder at the Religious Right. They seem to know those tenets upon which their faith is based, but choose among those tenets those beliefs they want to pursue. They conveniently forget the Apostle's admonition to remain apart from the world. (Apart from the World means not mixing in with, not taking sides with, for or against 'the world,' rather than trying to change it, to 'fix' it, to 'help' God. .)

They overlook the instruction to 'be you not presumptuous' and presume they are acting in God's behalf, when, indeed, God has not requested, nor does he need, help from his believers on His Purpose. His Purpose includes the exercise by humans of the Free Will each of us was given, that each of us is responsible to God - not to some church or to some government. To legislate personal morality decisions is to steal this Free Will from the personal lives of everyone who must live under such laws. This is, in fact, tampering with God's Purpose. It is not up to God's followers to judge what is right and what is wrong. That's God's job. God is the only one to read the hearts, to know the minds of others. Anyone who presumes to do this for God is being the presumptuous the scriptures warn against.


I believe in God, but these people do not speak for me.

Smokey

Can More Space Make You Healthy?

I am trying to make sense of it all.

I have been living in an efficiency apartment for about a year and a half now, and have never yet been completely unpacked. I am grateful for it - make no mistake. When I was declared completely disabled back in 2001, I applied for Social Security Disability. In the interim, I went through the severance pay provided by what was probably the last straw before my mind totally went South, and my Shrink Team formed and declared me in the midst of a Massive Depression - the result of a build-up of one Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after another after another after another (ad nauseum) since I was so small I had not learned to speak. And then there was the physical disability I had been living with for several years prior. Not only did I exhaust the severance pay, but my savings account and the savings bonds I had been purchasing on a regular basis for four years, my ENRON and 9/11 adjusted 401K, and funds culled from selling off things I had accumulated over the years.

I had nothing. What I could save of that nothing I ended up putting in storage: dishes, household linens, the television my son gave me when he left the country, books ( lots of books) and book cases, art, tons of poems and poems-in-progress, family papers, stuff like that. I was eligible for food stamps and a housing allowance, but there was nowhere I could find to live for $250 a month after being unable to stay in my comfortable apartment in Clearwater. I went to places that were supposed to help people in my situation (it typically takes three attempts to be proclaimed disabled enough to qualify for Social Security) but I discovered I was not in a bad enough situation for most places. I was not a recovering addict or alcoholic, I was not pregnant, and I was not escaping from an abusive relationship. There was no help available. I lived in my car for five months. (Someday I will discuss that - how to do it, what the good parts of it are, what the bad parts are. Not today, though.)

Anyway, I applied for an apartment with the local Housing Authority. Eventually, they found for me this efficiency apartment. It is impossible to keep up. It has never been dirty, but always messy. I have never had bugs of any sort, but I have never really been organized, either. Still - for 1/3 of my adjusted income, I have a place to live with electric paid. I live in a "Congregate Living Facility. That means there are counselors on site to aid with any problem one can imagine; there is a computer learning center, where I tutor 2 hours a day 5 days a week. There are fire alarms and - sprinklers. In my tiny apartment, I have 5. There is a good Security team. They do 'TAB' checks, expecting each resident to call down every morning to report in. If one fails to do that, Security uses the house phone (every apartment has one - a phone for contacting people in the building and - most importantly - Security.) to call the tenant to be sure he/she is all right. If there is no answer, Security will come up and personally check to be sure the tenant is not on the floor someplace - fallen and unable to get up.

But I have no room for anything. So I decided to ask Management what it would take to get a (huge compared to this!) one bedroom apartment.

And this is what I am trying to understand. Management told me all I would need to move to a larger apartment is a statement from my doctor saying that a larger apartment is medically necessary. Now perhaps there is a certain advantage to be able to reach everything from one central location in the middle of what I humorously call the "Great Room "that makes this the ideal apartment, I don't know.

Huh? Based on what? That I can never get this place in order enough to comfortably invite someone in? And that adds to my usual anti-social behavior? That I have no space to do the exercises my Physical Therapist set up for me? What else...?

I will ponder this while I try again to clean up around here. My youngest kid will be in town at the end of the week, and I have no place to put him. I hope to find a cot or something to use while he is here - but even that is a challenge.

Trying to figure out how more space will benefit my health, I will leave the move open to suggestion.

Help!!
Smokey

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Privatization?

Ah, Social Security! It was created those years ago to assure those Americans who worked long and hard for years that, in their senior years, no matter what else they owned or didn't own, no matter where they lived and how close their families, those people would not be destitute. These people were assured that their senior years would be secure. Hence the name.

Who remembers when private retirement funds came to be, with their tax-deferred accounts, IRAs, 401Ks and their ilk for those fortunate enough to be able to start them and add to them on a regular basis? I don't recall exactly, but it was in the last 35 years or so. Many people signed up for these, figuring how much should be set aside of their income to accomplish the return at retirement they desired. This was done by projection - what income one could be expect from Social Security and other assets, what one felt one needed to live. The difference was the total a tax deferred retirement account should produce through its investments. The earlier this is begun, the sooner, thanks to compound interest.

Now on the surface this looks good. Except -- does anyone remember ENRON? Many retirement investment account portfolios contained this stock, and the value of the accounts that were heavily invested in this so-called "safe' investment made a huge nosedive.

Does anyone remember the market nosedive after 9/11? The stock market is too variable to invest so much of a person's future, even at its most calm. The world is a volatile place. I remember being told by a stock market professional that one must never invest more than one can afford to lose.

Wall Street is too easily influenced to be reliable for such important savings by everyday people who cannot afford to lose. I suppose it is different for Mr. Presidebt Bush and his cohorts, who have money invested in all sorts of things and who can afford to lose some here and there with Market fluctuations.

Fluctuations of the market and the insecurity of the Securities business are things that made Social Security a good idea in the first place.

I was reading random blogs the other day and came across one written by an 18 year old who didn't like the idea of Social Security in the first place. He was all for it not existing, mentioning someone he knew who worked at McDonald's and needed every cent he made to live on, day to day. This young man (who referred to his blog as "The Truth" (no doubt - as he saw it) lamented the Social Security deductions made in the young person's paycheck. But it is especially during this young age that deductions are most important, thanks to compound interest. This would be an ideal time for the young person to make some sort of investment so the interest begins to work for him at the earliest possible age. It it time high school math classes included information on savings, interest, compound interest - along with the simple things like budgeting. It should cover such things as necessities, as opposed to those things one wants. It should include comparing like costs - for instance, the cost of a night out for a celebration costing the same as, say, a week's worth of groceries, so young people learn how to make intelligent financial decisions. The real cost of credit should be taught; common sense money-handling. But I digress...

Presidebt Bush has asked for any and all suggestions. I have been listening for alternatives to his Privatization offered by any/everyone, and have never heard anyone suggest real estate. I think Real Estate is a viable alternative. To own one's home is a personal, real security that creates many benefits financially and socially. Stories one reads of the success of programs such as Habitat for Humanity stress that ownership of one's home creates better communities. Better communities maintain the value of the homes that make up those communities. Perhaps we should be looking at a more physical means of saving for one's retirement. Having a family home that one can live in - and leave to the next generation - is part of a very real"social security."

Just something to consider. There are many ways to implement family home ownership, and greater minds than mine need only be set into a conference room with one another to come up with a variety of programs that could be fine supplements to Social Security.

Incidentally -- anyone stop to think what the unemployment index is doing to Social Security? Just asking.

Any more like me?

Smokey

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Chocolate

Chocolate. One of the basic food groups. I don't indulge often, but I do enjoy chocolate! And now I am being tempted, tested and will have to come up on the integrity side of the matter.

I love plain milk chocolate - Hershey's, or dark chocolate (also Hershey's) and my very favorite candy bar aside from those is Milky Way. Not the new-fangled ones - just the regular plain old reliable Milky Way that has been available for as long as I can remember. It's a Mars candy product, out of Hackensack New Jersey...so I thought. I bought two at the beginning of the month and decided to dessert on one with a hot and strong and creamy cup of coffee -- one of my favorite dessert combinations. I was playing with my SIMS people, so the coffee and candy bar were at the computer with me.

The Milky Way was fresh and soft and yielding, and it was wonderful. I looked down at the wrapper when it was gone and read, in a white box on the back of the wrapper, "11/2005 448FA01 MADE IN CANADA"

Made in Canada. Now, I have nothing against stuff made in Canada -- unless it is being made in Canada by an American company (Mars, Hackensack NJ) rather than in the US by US workers. Apparently Mars has outsourced the making of candy bars to Canada. I know it was not just a local across-the-border thing. I live in Florida, half a continent away from Canada.

I cannot buy Milky Way again in good conscience. Nor, according to Presidebt Bush, should I. I mean, drug companies have Canadians making drugs and Presidebt Bush tells us we cannot trust the quality. That's why he wants to make it illegal for Americans to buy the (sometimes much) less expensive drugs from Canadian sources on the internet or in our neighborhoods. And geez, if you can't trust the quality of something life-or-death important as drugs coming across the border, why should one trust the quality of a Milky Way (or for that matter, a Snickers Bar or a Mars Bar) from across the border? And what about the General Motors cars made in Canada and shipped to the US?

I will miss Milky Way. I have one left in my cupboard for later this month. I can't waste it. I've already paid for it, so to not eat it would be a shame. But I will not buy one again, unless it shows plainly on the label that it was made in the USA. And now that I am aware, I will be checking the labels of other things I buy that I thought were as all-American as apple pie.

I'll keep you posted. I have to go read the labels of things in my cupboard now, biding time until the Superbowl starts. (Yes, I have a preference as to whom I would like to see win -- but I think I should keep that to myself...)

Putting on my reading glasses --

Smokey


Saturday, February 05, 2005

When Nice People Do Rotten Things

I was half- listening to NBC's TODAY show this morning. There was a segment where two gentlemen were interviewed about a book they had written, "When Good Men Do Bad Things" or something similar. It was an interesting concept, and I was put in mind of a dog we had once.

We got Princess when she was 4 months old, and my youngest child was 4 years old. She was beautiful - a black and silver-beige German shepherd with a personality and capacity for learing and caring I have never seen in a dog before nor since. She grew up with the young boy, waitng for him when he was due home from school, "helping" him when he played ball with his friends until the poor child asked me to bring her inside. She slept either across his bed or beside mine. She was a true family dog, and was easily trained because she wanted so much to please us. In turn, we took her for regular vet visits, kept her shots up-to-date- and fed her the best we could find.

One day, as my then-husband and I sat having breakfast, Princess and the young boy were wrestling around in the family room, where they were visible to us. All of a sudden I heard a snarl and looked up to see this wonder-dog snap at her playmate. She didn't connect, but the look on the child's face was complete surprise and - horror. I put the dog outside and we tried to assure the boy that she wouldn't have hurt him, although at that moment we really weren't sure. The boy's father's first reaction was that we would have to get rid of the dog. We certainly couldn't keep a dog that would hurt our son!

I was also shaken. But my first reaction toward the dog was to make an appointment with her vet and beg for time from the boy's father. It was totally out of character for this dog to behave so badly toward the kid she loved so much.

At the Vet's office later that same morning, I explained the situation and he gave her a thorough going over. It turned out she had impacted anal glands - something, the vet assured me, would make anyone cranky. It was a problem that could be fixed, and we did that. Princess had her anal glands removed. They would no longer make her cranky. Princess never snapped at the child - or anyone - again.

Maybe that doesn't seem related to anything about human relationships on the surface, but I believe it does. If someone you know and love goes against the behavior you know (and love), I believe the first reaction should be the same as we gave our dog those years ago. Get that person in for a complete end-to-end physical as soon as possible.

Years down the trail from the incident with Princess, I was in another relationship with a man who, while he wasn't perfect (who is?) was a good partner for me. In the beginning. As time went on, his personality started to change. He showed a mean side I had never seen. He was increasingly cranky, pessimestic, and had become emotionally abusive, bordering on the physical. I was afraid, and opted out of the relationship. I didn't understand what had happened, but I have had enough experience with all sorts of abuse to know that I had to get out.

Several years down the road I learned that this man had collapsed, and during the investigation of that, a large, baseball sized tumor had been discovered in his head, not in the brain proper, as I understand it, but exerting considerable pressure on the brain by its very presence. It was considered a brain tumor, however, and it was the sort of tumor, I learned by research, that slowly builds over a period of 20 years or more. It spontaneously changes from harmless to malignant after a certain length of time, and once it changes it can spread with lightning speed.

By this time he had remarried - I knew he wasn't alone, and I was glad of that. But I began to wonder ... Those years before, in fact, when he and I first met, he said it had been years since he had been able to smell or taste anything well. Years into our relationship he presented himself to a doctor with his complaint and was told he was full of nasal polyps. Removing those, he was told, would improve his sensations of smell and taste.

It didn't.

In my research I discovered one of the symptoms of brain tumors is the loss of the senses of smell and taste. I wish I had known this sooner. I wish I had sat him down with his doctor and said,"well, it wasn't the polyps - what else can it be?" and kept after the doctor until the right diagnosis was found. There might still be one nice - though not perfect - person left on the planet.

I was afraid, I felt threatened, and I was right to leave because I did not know to give this man the same benefit I gave to my dog those years ago. I didn't know to ask the questions. But I have learned this, and I want to pass it along: When someone we love has a behavior change, it may well be physical. The loving thing to do (assuming the behavior is not threatening to others or him/herself) is to get that person to a doctor for a complete evaluation. Say it out loud to his/her doctor yourself -- "this person has been behaving entirely out of characterfor him/herself. I want to know why."

We need to explore the physical first when a loved one seems different. After that, feel free to Google the book mentioned in the beginning!

Watching out --
Smokey