Monthly Archives: January 2016

“Water, Water Everywhere Nor Not A Drop To Drink…”

Note: I wrote this on January 17.  Since then, I have gotten stranded at the store on the 18th for almost 2 hours in 6 below weather (because the bus driver decided to skip the stop – he has done that numerous times but that’s a post for another day).  

I have also been quite ill but still doing my volunteer stuff because it is through a federal program (the Senior Companion Program) that pays $2.65/hr and I need money to buy a blood pressure monitor at the very least, or at most to pay for a trip to Pittsburgh to find out why I am so ill.

Basically, I have been getting up, taking the bus to my volunteer job, taking the bus home and going to bed.  On days off, if I don’t have problems like lack of water – or catfood – I stay in bed.  No Facebook, no email, no blog, nothing.

Today is a snow day, so I am home.  And feeling a bit better, enough to write, anyway.

Everything is worse, health-wise.  But, due to transportation issues, I am loathe to go to the ER.

Again, it comes down to one thing affecting another.

I can take the bus to the ER, yes.  That, with transfers, will take 1 1/2 hours.  If I am too sick I can call an ambulance.  And hope Medicaid pays for it.

But if, when I get the the hospital, they cannot figure out what’s wrong, and cannot come up with a diagnosis, then they cannot admit me.  Medicare/Medicaid will NOT pay for a hospital admission unless they have a diagnosis.

Most likely I would get discharged with an admonishment to see my pcp Dr. Wonderful.

The same Dr. Wonderful who told me he was stumped and would send me to Pittsburgh if I didn’t get better.  This is why I have doubts about the ER suddenly figuring it out, because Dr. Wonderful is very skilled and I doubt the ER is any smarter than he is.

Discharged probably after the last bus has already left for Hollidaysburg.  So then I will have no way to get home.  

Nothing is simple when you are poor.  Nothing.  Everything is complicated, takes at least twice as long to do, and has ramifications which you may or may not be able to foresee.

Ok…on the the blog post.

The title is a quote from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Coleridge.  But y’all probably knew that.

On January 16, 2016, President Obama declared a state of emergency for Flint, Michigan, due to the contamination of the public water supply.  The water there is so corrosive that it leached lead from pipes, making the lead in the drinking water 900 times the amount recommended as “safe” by the EPA.

How did this happen?  And why are so many citizens – especially children – hurt by this?

Well, in 2014 the city of Flint was not doing well, so to save money they decided to get its water supply from the Flint River, instead of the Detroit Municipal water supply.

The problem was, the water from the Flint River is so high in salt that it corroded pipes – pipes that are made of lead.

Lead.  That stuff you’re not supposed to ingest because it causes all kinds of problems, including brain damage.

Residents noticed the water started smelling like rotten eggs.  Sometimes it was discolored.  But time and time again, they were assured by the city that the water was safe.

Briefly (22 days) in 2014, residents were advised to boil their water, due to bacteria, but then were given the all-clear.

In March of 2015, the government of Flint announced that the water met all state and federal safety standards (“A Timeline of the Water Crisis in Flint Michigan”, Associated Press via the ABC News website, 1/16/16).

But by now, doctors were beginning to notice problems with children – and, despite the mean things written about them, it’s most likely they found this out because their parents brought them in to see those doctors.

Aside #1: “How could those parents let their children drink that? Too busy paying for their drugs and weaves?”  Read that, heard that, yep.  Racism and classism in one ignorant idea.

So the doctors contacted the powers-that-be in Flint and urged them to stop using water from the Flint River.  They were told that the water was safe.

Aside #2:  Let’s not have science get in the way of economic decisions.

It’s not until October of 2015 that Gov. Snyder attempted to do something about this problem, by approving $6 million to switch the water supply back to the Detroit system (Ibid).

A state of emergency was declared this month, but in the meantime, while all this was going on…

There were a few “water filter giveaways” around Flint – if you can get to the locations and can bring a copy of your water bill.  The city leaders are “developing a plan” for those who are homebound (Water Filter Giveaway Branches Out to Four Flint Locations”, Ron Fonger, MLive.com, 10/05/15).

ZeroWater has donated 5,000 tumblers to schools.  The United Way is donating 2,500 dispensers (Ibid).

There have been quite a few giveaways of water in gallon jugs (“Local Organizations Host Bottled Water Giveaways”, Lauren Chapman and James Felton, WNEM website, 9/28/2015).

All this is good.  But it doesn’t address the other issues that complicated this problem.

Do you know that, after all this, and the state switched the Flint water back to the Detroit system, 1,800 people got shut-off notices (“1,800 Shutoff Notices Issued in Flint”, ABC12 News website, 11/5/2015)??

That’s right.  They couldn’t use the poisonous water after the switch to the Flint River was made, but then when the city admitted they made a mistake they then went after the residents for money, after Flint got that $6 million grant to switch the system back.

Here’s the last line of the story I just referenced:

“Many people living in Flint have boycotted paying their water bill after a water emergency was declared, but the city says people have to keep paying their water bills no matter what”(Ibid).

And that’s part of the problem.  A completely callous misunderstanding of how poor people live and pay their bills.

“Well, I pay my bills so why shouldn’t everyone else have to?”  I can hear that from, well, just about everyone who never thinks beyond their front door.

So I am going to tell you why.

Imagine you are already struggling to pay bills.  You live on social security, or you have a minimum wage job, and you live in a neighborhood where the local store is one of those little stores that sells junk food, canned food, and minimal stuff like milk – a “convenience store”.

Sure, they take food stamps, but it will cost you sometimes as much as twice the price than if you went to a regular grocery store.

In other words, you live in a “food desert”:

“Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.” – U.S.D.A. website.

“That’s Not Telling It Like It Is. It’s Just Wrong.” – Barack Obama

The President made this remark in his state of the union speech this week.  He was referring to what I think of as “the politics of hate”:

“…that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics — that targets people because of race or religion. Let me just say this. This is not a matter of political correctness.”  (Transcript of President Obama’s State of the Union Address, White House website, 1/13/16)

He went on to add:

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong.” (Ibid)

This really hit home with me, because it addresses one of the most often-used arguments to support bigoted, ignorant politicians – “he’s just telling it like it is.”

The implication is that whatever is said is fact, and that the person who repeats it is being candid.

Well, that’s half right, anyway.

The person who states ideas like this – for example, that all Muslims are violent – is being candid.

But he/she is not stating a fact.  He/she is stating an opinion.

Opinions are not facts.

This would all seem to be obvious, wouldn’t it?  Yet, we see it time and time again, this phrase used to justify some very hateful and false ideas people seem to be spewing all over the place right now.

And it’s not just about Muslims – it’s used to support hatred against the poor, the disabled, minorities, women, neo-Pagans, Catholics…you name it, someone will hate it.

This statement is also often paired with “freedom of speech” arguments, such as “We have freedom of speech in America, so I can say what I want and you have no right to tell me to shut it.”

That’s true, up to a point.

Your hateful speech is protected, as long as it doesn’t incite violence or panic (the classic “shouting FIRE! in a crowded theater” argument), and/or isn’t specifically directed at someone else (“Hey, look, a fag – let’s go get him”, that causes others to chase someone down and beat him/her).

What I don’t get is, why would anyone be proud of speaking hatred against other people?

And, of course, the other side of this is that, yeah, we do have the right to tell you to shut up.

In the past few years, I have watched politeness norms dwindle to virtually nothing, on the internet especially.  Now it seems to be affecting person-to-person discourse, as well.

Famous people like Donald Trump have made it fashionable to say all kinds of untrue and hateful things, under the guise of “telling it like it is.”  And I continue to be deeply disappointed in some people – particularly friends who I never considered thought those kinds of ugly and untrue ideas – who have “come out of the closet” and revealed just how much they hate all kinds of people who are different from them.

I’m glad that the President mentioned something about that.  I’m thrilled to bits anytime anyone in the public eye points out how wrong it is to think/speak this way.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if it were confined to the internet.  Or confined to certain groups of people, or certain places (though I recognize where one lives does make a difference)…

It’s bad because it’s everywhere – on the bus, in the places I volunteer, in grocery stores, and other public places I have to go into.  I can’t escape it unless I don’t leave my apartment.

Some of it is unwanted remarks by strangers who assume I will agree with them (this is usually a white person making a racist statement), some of it is one or more people speaking very loudly on public transportation with the intent that everyone hear them, and some of it is directed at me – usually every time I go grocery shopping, because I use food stamps.

I cannot remember a time in the past year where I went to the grocery store and wasn’t confronted by a shopper behind me who stated:

  1.  They can’t afford the organic food I am buying.
  2.  They think it’s wrong that I buy other kinds of food using “their” tax money (last time it was a small cake for my birthday, just last Monday).

I can turn off my computer or go to other webpages and so on.  I can’t turn off other people.

“You’re being too sensitive,” I can imagine some think this about me.

But think for a second – what if you heard this stuff every time you left your apartment, in several different places, day in and day out, year after year.

Can you imagine what that’s like?

It wears on you.  Like I wrote before, like water on stone, it erodes something inside you.

It skews your opinion about humans in general, because after awhile it seems as if everyone you encounter is a mean-spirited bigot who can’t wait to either commiserate with you, or to put you down.

And if you call them out on it, as I have on occasion, they try to backpedal and say that you “misunderstood” them.

That they didn’t mean you, they meant all the other people on food stamps who buy organic food, or who buy ‘junk food’.

Um no, they most certainly did not mean that, because they addressed their remarks directly to me.  Me, who is standing in line with quinoa and organic vegetables.  Which they apparently cannot afford.

I would wager that they spend much more than the $35/week in food stamps that I spend.  So they’re really not even being truthful.  What they mean is they think organic, healthy stuff is too expensive (no argument from me there), so they choose not to buy it.

They want to spend their money on something else, which is their right.

I don’t.  What happens is I run out of food before the month is out, and then I either do not eat or I eat some “emergency” thing like ramen.

But that, too, is a choice.  A choice they will never have to make, and one they do not understand.

They don’t even think about it, all they see is someone not spending their food stamps in a way that they think is appropriate.   I’m not sure what they think we ought to be buying, actually, but if the food bank is any indication I guess it’s canned vegetables and beans.

Even if I agreed with that, do you have any idea how heavy that is, lugging a month’s worth of canned goods home on public transportation?

See, no one thinks that deeply about anything.  That is one of the reasons for this blog, to let people know what it’s like to live this way.

More Bitching, Celtic Witching…and Ellen DeGeneres

In that order.  Skip down to the next page if you only want to read the “witching” and “Ellen” parts.

I was recently in Memphis, visiting my son and daughter-in-law, and the subject of social media and Facebook came up in conversation.  Despite the fact that both of them are tech-savvy (his job is doing computer administration stuff), they do not “do Facebook”.

The reason is simple: what you put online never, ever goes away.  They are private people and they don’t like the thought of their personal lives being on the internet for all to see.

Even programs where the developers state you can “erase” things – “Snapchat” comes to mind, for example – it’s never really erased.  It can be buried in your device, perhaps, but if someone really wants it they can get it.

No program makes it impossible, too, for someone to just copy what you write and post, meaning it can be out there in cyberspace, in perpetuity.

Ok, so I understand and respect their position.  Which is why my Facebook page has NO pictures of either of them, or their dogs, nor will it have, ever.

We also discussed the more vacuous things that are found on Facebook – pictures of peoples’ meals, of everything they bought that day, of every party they attended and of everyone they ever knew.

Then there are the one or two-line homilies about the nature of life and so on.  Most of those are banal.

My posts often come under fire for “being negative”, as discussed in the last blog post.  So I decided that, on my way back from Memphis, I would only post trivial and positive things.

The first post was when I was in the Memphis airport at 5 AM, waiting for my flight to board.  I commented on how nice the airport is, with its redesign and blues music on the loudspeaker.

Then I posted from Pittsburgh, stating I was waiting for the final leg of my flight to board, drinking a latte and playing “Words with Friends” with a friend (who was also on Facebook).

Finally, I posted when I got home, stating my cats were upset (I should have included a cute picture, my bad) but that the flight – in a 6-seater, one-prop plane – was terrific.

Ugh.  Who in hell cares??

To me, it was all inconsequential stuff that happens in my life, and in everyone else’s life, too.

I rarely even think about stuff like that, or if I do it’s only for a minute or so.

My head is filled with “what can I do to make the world better?” and “how can this experience/thing I saw illustrate the point that people need to be kind” and “how do I frame this struggle with illness/disability so that it can educate others?”

I don’t care – and I suspect you probably don’t, either – what flavor my latte is, aside from what to order at the coffeehouse counter.  Unless I work for the coffeehouse, what possible reason could I have to take a picture of it and post it on Facebook?

The Memphis airport plays blues music.  Big deal.  Unless it plays music recorded by one of my friends, and I can use Facebook to promote that, why post about it?

Who cares who I play “Words with Friends” with?  Or that I had a nice flight?  Why should I waste my time, and yours, writing about things like that?

Yet this seems to be what the majority of people on Facebook do, every day all day.

Not everyone has to post earth-shattering news/opinions and so on, that’s not my point.  But it’s like there is no filter on what they post, or even priorities.

A picture of someone’s lunch has the same weight for them as their snippet about their deity or their philosophy of life.

There’s something really disturbing about that.  Disturbingly shallow.

Aside #1: I do have friends who post pics of meals for other reasons, such as they created something for their elderly mother – and I like posts like that.  Because they carry meaning about life, and relationships.  Same goes for posts about their new cars, and new houses, and other good things that come their way – I like to know my friends are doing well.

But I cannot post meaningless trivia about my life – it seems so self-indulgent, and it assumes people want to know every dumb little thing I do all day.  And, hey, unless someone is a stalker, I cannot imagine why they would want to know all that.

I suppose I could just give up posting on Facebook entirely, and I actually have considered that. Still might.  I find it rude when people write me to advise me to “stop being negative”, or go so far as to post those banners or whatever-you-call-them with sayings about how messed-up negative people are…on my timeline, really?

I could just “unfriend” those people.  I haven’t decided what I want to do yet.  But, again, this feels exclusionary to me.  After all the “cliques” I’ve been tossed out of, from high school onwards, all the jobs I have lost due to my opinions, now I’m being pushed out of Facebook for not conforming?

Really?  Not even by the actual Facebook admins, but by people I know socially?

Ok, rant over.

It’s Not Your Fault: “Karma” and the Fair World Myth

I put “karma” in quotes, because I mean the “what goes around comes around” platitude and variations of that.

What most people think of when they are blithely commenting that something is the result of karma, is this notion that if you do good, you get good things in return.

And if you do bad, you somehow get punished for it down the road.

It’s the idea that the world is run on a checks and balances system, and sometimes people use the physical orderliness of the universe (again, physics) to argue that it applies to human affairs as well.

No, it doesn’t.

Human behavior, while dictated in many ways (environment, genetics) by the physical world, is not controlled in any way by an orderly system.

Because humans are not orderly – we are messy, inconsistent beings who do wildly unpredictable things on occasion and often do things for which there are no consequences.

It’s this whole “the universe revolves around me and my desires” attitude, coupled with a “God-as-vending-machine” belief thrown in to explain why some people are wealthy and some are not.

Aside #1: “God-as-vending-machine” is the Prosperity Gospel idea of praying for monetary things while giving a donation to some religious scam artist organization.  In goes the prayer and money, and out pops a blessing!

Added to that is the “the world HAS to be fair, or it makes no sense to me” notion that many people hold because they cannot imagine the alternative – that the world is NOT fair, and often things happen which are unfair and make no sense, like childhood cancer, for example.

What prompted this blog post were a few things:

  1.  Something I hear/read sometimes, not only about me but about others who try to point out crappy things – with the intent that someone will take action and help.  It’s this: “But you’re so nayyyyy-gah-tive!”
  2.   Then there’s the rage-inducing comment about someone’s good fortune, whether it is big or small: “karma.”
  3.   And, finally, the equally rage-inducing comment about someone’s bad behavior: “what goes around, comes around.”

I say “rage-inducing” because, well, it makes me angry to hear/read things like that.  Only smug people say things like that, and I have a very low tolerance for smug.

And while some might argue that people say these kinds of things without thinking, I’m here to tell those people that it is coming off as smug to many of us who are suffering.

So tell those “unthinking people” to think before they say things like that, ok?  Help them become more self-aware.

These types of comments are sometimes followed by a comment about how one is rewarded in the afterlife for a life of suffering, so it’s all good.

Let’s just not address the afterlife thing, because no one knows if there is an afterlife.   We could get stuck on that discussion forever.  Even people who agree there is an afterlife, cannot agree on what it’s like.

But…telling someone who is suffering that it’s ok because after they die it will all cease is very cruel, no matter what religion/belief system says it.   It’s cruel because it implies that nothing needs to be done to end their suffering and pain.

Aside #2: And in the case of Mother Teresa, that kind of thinking was indeed used to do nothing about peoples’ pain and suffering. See “The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice” by Christopher Hitchens, and “Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict” written by Aroup Chatterjee (this man is a native of Calcutta, where Mother Teresa did the majority of her evil “work”).  That second book might be hard to find, as it appears the publisher no longer has a website.

I want to address this whole idea that everything everyone does has some kind of cosmic relevance that all gets spewed back out in a system of punishments and rewards.

Aside #3: Please don’t write and tell me I have completely misinterpreted the Buddhist notion of karma, as I am not addressing that.  I know nothing about Buddhism.  I am merely commenting on the pop-culture version of karma, with all its implications.

Now I know some of you are thinking, “Wow she gets upset over the throwaway ‘karma’ comment!”  Yeah, I know.

But the whole point of my blog (and, indeed, it seems the whole point of my life) is to raise awareness of the consequences – intended and otherwise – of people’s words, good and bad.

Words do have impact.  Words reflect thoughts, and they can also change others’ thinking.

Words lead to action, or encourage inaction, and that has material consequences on the world.

However.

Words and actions do not end up being recorded in some kind of ethereal book somewhere, with some deity or deities sitting around deciding what actions and words prompt a reward or punishment for the speaker/doer.

If this were the case, then why is there suffering for children and animals and other innocents? What did they do to deserve the horrors they face?

There are 3 responses to this from people who assert that “everything happens for a reason” (another platitude I really hate):

  1.  We don’t know why, as God/whatever deity you worship works in ways we do not understand.  We just have to trust that he/she knows best.
  2.  They did something in a past life to merit suffering in this one.  Or, they chose to suffer in this life, between this life and their last one.
  3.   Newton’s Third Law: “For every action force there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction force.” (“Identifying Action and Reaction Force Pairs”, The Physics Classroom website, no date or author given)

This last one is the easiest to dispute, as it confuses causality with intention.

In other words, things that happen do have a cause – for example, hurricanes are caused by atmospheric and oceanic conditions.

But hurricanes do not possess intention: no hurricane set itself in motion to punish certain groups of people who are ultimately devastated by them.

People who state “everything happens for a reason” are stating that everything that happens is a direct result of intention, and I’m sure you can think of many reasons why this isn’t true.

Hurricanes being the one that came to my mind.  Now, if you really do believe that hurricanes are “sent” to punish people, you would then have to go on to explain what those people – in some cases, millions of people – did to get something horrible like that imposed on them by some deity, or by the hurricane itself.

If you can answer that with certainty, we really have no dialogue because you are then arguing from a position of faith, and that’s not something people can have rational discourse about.

Or, to use an even more mundane example, let’s take the case of a car accident where someone’s loved one has passed.

Sometimes people try to comfort the relatives by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”

And, while it is tempting to retort, “Of course it happened for a reason – the reason was someone got behind the wheel drunk, hit their car, and they died, you idiot!” that’s not what the would-be comforter meant at all.

No, what was meant was, “This accident happened because, in the grand scheme of things, my deity decided it had to happen.  I don’t know how it fits, but just be comforted that it does, somehow.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this at all comforting.  In fact, if I thought my deity did something so cruel in order to carry out some sort of overall plan, I’d be really pissed off about that.

Some deity decided he/she needed to kill my loved one because it fulfilled some kind of overall plan, and didn’t even have the decency to explain it?

No, that just doesn’t seem to fit at all, actually.

The first two reasons behind the idea that “everything happens for a reason” are things that can’t really be addressed properly, because it’s all faith-based in some form or another.