Sunday, January 27, 2008

Facts and Myths about Tuberculosis and Homeless People

While I was homeless, in 1995, a homeless group I worked with opened a new shelter with the aid of a neighborhood church. We held several community meetings in the process. One of the objections some neighborhood residents brought up was that "homeless people have TB" -- the Boy Scouts used the same community room that our homeless men and women would sleep in, and the children could catch TB. A district nurse came to a meeting and testified, among other things, that TB is still HIGHER among non-homeless populations than among homeless populations. What makes it a critical issue among the homeless is not the high incidence, but that the circumstances of their lives make the disease a greater threat to them --
as well as more contagious, when thirty of you are sleeping on the floor in one room. But the contagion rate in schools and offices is still higher than among homeless people. You won't catch TB from a rug that a homeless man slept on the night before. In case you were worried.

Shortly after that, I was invited into an online discussion about "homeless people spreading drug-resistant TB." These are notes from that discussion; reposted now because lately, I've been hearing some of the same comments.

A correspondent equated homelessness with "poverty, illness, and insanity." My response:

Poverty, yes -- you can definitely be allowed to be categorical on that. No one with the money to escape it *chooses* to sleep on pavement, or on a mat with two army blankets on the floor of a church basement.

I acknowledge the correlation between poverty and homelessness. I still don't see that it proves anything. Or are we going to bring in Calvinism? To be poor is to be morally inferior, to be homeless is to be poor, therefore to be homeless is to be morally inferior, therefore of course they don't take their meds?

Illness AND insanity, though -- good grief, we not only HAVE to have one of them, we HAVE to have both? We are homeless AND poor AND sick AND insane?

While I was in a homeless shelter, I shared the space with several men and women who were working, full-time -- at blue-collar, minimum-wage jobs, or at seasonal jobs, or they had just gone back to work after illness or injury. It would take them several months, at least, to save up enough to move back into housing -- first and last month's rent, furniture and all the things required for living in a house, from dishes to toilet paper.

None of them were, at the time, physically or mentally ill.

Our shelter was one of the self-managed shelters organized by homeless people themselves. Everyone participated in cleaning and administering the shelter. Therefore the portion of the population we served was more active, motivated and responsible than in, for instance, the city-run emergency shelter. Several of the people in the shelter were, however, in the category of "mentally ill", "disabled by reason of mental illness." I
was one of them. My illness had made it impossible for me to do my former work of computer programming. But I could take my medication. I could take a large portion of responsibility in the shelter, and it increased as I recovered.

As I said in an earlier post, mental illness does not always equal incompetence. "I am in pain, not incompetent."

My correspondent said (as most people believe) that "the homeless are more likely on an individual basis to forget or neglect prescribed medications, especially ones taken after they are pushed back on the streets." My response:

The incidence among the homeful of not finishing medication and not taking it as prescribed is HUGE. It is a continual problem doctors and pharmacists wrestle with. This is with educated, stable, working adults living in their own homes. They either decide that taking one pill a day for twenty days is too slow, they'll take four a day for five days; or
they take the pills for three days and forget for a week; or they take them for ten days and feel better and save the rest for the next time they get sick... have a talk with your doctor the next time you see him, he'll give you lots more variations.

I can find no evidence anywhere that homeless people are any worse about taking medication than people in housing are.

Because any statistic -- or hint of a supposition of a statistic -- can be used to justify blame and horrid measures, it is very important to be responsible about using them, or letting them be used. I reply to any stereotypes about the homeless wherever they show up. Being kind to poor helpless weak-minded sick homeless people or being cruel to stinking useless crazy criminal addict homeless people are both abusive -- abusive to a different extent, in different ways, but the kind pity makes it easier for the cruel oppression. What is really needed is to realize that there are people who have homes, there are people who do not have homes; there is an equally wide spread of intelligence, education, physical fitness and mental health in both categories.

And all those varieties of human should be regarded with as much dignity as you demand for yourself.

End of sermon. Smile, I don't pass a collection plate!

Still another correspondent insisted, "A large percentage of TB inflicted people in the US are homeless, this vector has a hard time taking its meds, as a generalism." My response:

I heard a public health nurse speak about tuberculosis and homeless people: she said that most of the people who have TB are not homeless. This is what I put together from a quick check on the Web:

Eleven Years of Community-Based Directly Observed Therapy for Tuberculosis September 27, 1995. (c) AMA 1996
C. Patrick Chaulk, MD, MPH; Kristina Moore-Rice, RN; Rosetta Rizzo, RN, MHS; Richard E. Chaisson, MD

"Conclusions.--In contrast to the national TB upswing during the 1980s,
Baltimore experienced a substantial decline in TB following
implementation of community-based DOT, despite highly prevalent
medicosocial risk factors. Directly observed therapy facilitated high
treatment completion rates and bacteriologic evidence of cure.
Directly observed therapy could help reduce TB incidence in the United
States, particularly in cities with high case rates."

Directly monitoring patients improves their compliance with meds; this
was independent of all other socioeconomic factors. Middle-class homeful
folk did better on the direct observation treatment program, just as poor
immigrants did.

"Factors contributing to increased TB morbidity and drug resistance
include physician mismanagement of cases, patient nonadherence with
therapy, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and a
substantial decline in funding for public TB control programs."

The rise in homelessness is not cited as a factor.

Department of Health Public Health Fact Sheet * Tuberculosis fact sheet
Copyright =A9 1996 Washington State Department of Health

"Prolonged exposure is normally necessary for infection to occur."

(Just in case the conversation makes you concerned about catching TB from
a homeless person you pass on the street.)

To put some perspective on "people not being compliant with their meds" --

"People with active TB must complete a course of curative therapy. Initial treatment includes at least four anti-TB drugs for a minimum of six months."

A public health nurse told me that treatment can mean up to twelve pills a day. For months. The nurse said that compliancy is NOT a problem restricted to the homeless. "People are not compliant, period. I am not always compliant about my meds."

Things That You Can Do to Stop the Spread of TB

  • Spread education, yourself. Get public health pamphlets for your church, school, and office; have a speaker come in to your community group, or school, or office, to present the facts on TB, AIDS, and local health issues; provide links from your webpage to accurate health info pages; if you hear someone using inaccurate facts, correct them.

  • Notice what's going on around you. If someone you know shows signs of a medical problem, get them to see a doctor.

  • Don't withdraw from friends -- or family, co-workers, church members -- who are ill or in pain. People do, not just from fear of contagion, but from awkwardness and the pain of helplessness. Being emotionally and socially isolated is one of the things that makes people get sicker, or fail to get well.

  • If you get sick, take your meds as the doctor orders -- but FIRST get the doctor to explain the medication she's prescribing, also read up on it yourself and talk it over with your pharmacist. People who take responsibility for their own health live longer. People who blindly do whatever their doctor tells them to statistically have a shorter life expectancy than people who don't go to doctors at all.

  • Support spending money for public health. (Take it out of the corporate wealthfare funds.) Tuberculosis was almost wiped out in this country, then we cut back on public health and it resurged, complete with antibiotic-resistant strains -- as if the Unite States was a patient who stopped taking his meds because he started feeling better.

  • Support local hygiene centers -- places where homeless people and others in need can shower and wash their clothes. And tourists, and tired shoppers, and everyone else stuck downtown without a bathroom.

  • Campaign to cut out corporate wealthfare entirely and use it to provide adequate housing for all. We should have zero homeless people. (Okay, it doesn't relate directly to TB. I just thought I'd throw it in.)

"Think twice before you speak about the homeless --
the dignity you save may be your own."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Combating Climate Change Denial


It may be hard to believe that there are people who can stare straight at where a glacier used to be and swear that Earth's climate is not changing to any degree that will affect humanity. It may be hard to believe that some people who are not oil company executives still refuse to believe that human activities have any effect on the earth's climate. Such arguments do exist, however, and as silly as they sound they cannot be simply ignored.

According to cognitive scientists, a statement that is met with silence is more likely to be believed. Therefore, as frustrating as it is to confront the same falsehoods over and over and over and over... it is necessary. Not to change the minds of the claimants, who are emotionally invested in their position, but for the sake of the innocent bystanders.

Here are some resources for debunking myths and misinformation about climate change:

I hope that helps you! Human beings are affecting our climate, and being affected by it; these effects will become increasingly serious; and we must take serious actions now or pay serious penalties later. We do not have to wait to act until every last soul on earth is convinced of the necessity. Most people already agree. Our actions will be more effective, however, the more people participate. People with accurate information always solve problems better.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Busting the Climate Change "Myth Busters" : Part II

“I’ve made up my mind. Don’t confuse me with the facts.” Steven Milloy says that this is the mantra of "global warming fanatics." I say it's the mantra of fanatic global warming deniers. Let's examine Milloy's "Top 10 Climate Myth-Busters for 2007" and see, shall we? I busted Milloy's first five myth-busters back in December; will the next five hold up better?

  1. The multiplication of straw men. Milloy cites the discovery that "brown clouds" (aerosols) in the atmosphere are a warming factor, instead of a cooling factor as previously supposed, to be somehow a reason for dismissing all concern about global warming. He represents climate scientists as having portrayed CO2 as the one culprit in all global warming, and since it isn't, the scientists don't know what they are talking about, at all at all.

    #1: No, climate scientists do not claim that CO2 is the one & only man-made influence on global climate change.
    #2: Learning you were wrong about something is not evidence that you don't know your science; it is evidence that you are doing real science.

    For all those interested in real science:
  2. Milloy claims that global temperatures are not rising as fast as global CO2 levels, therefore the two are not after all connected. From Wikipedia: "None of the effects of forcing are instantaneous. The thermal inertia of the Earth's oceans and slow responses of other indirect effects mean that the Earth's current climate is not in equilibrium with the forcing imposed." source is a pdf.

  3. Milloy cites research published in "April" (it was published in December 2005) indicating that while planting more forest in the tropics could lessen global warming, planting more forest in Northern latitudes could increase it. From here, he jumps to "so maybe Northern forests are causing all the global warming." Read what the research actually says. Oh, and he missed one in 2001.

  4. 55 million years ago, warming preceded release of CO2. That's probably what's going on now. This was addressed on RealClimate in 2004: What does the lag of CO2 behind temperature in ice cores tell us about global warming?

  5. In #10, Milloy gives up citing science and just cites the EPA directly. And we all know that George Bush's EPA is completely objective on the science of climate change.
Milloy cannot end the year without crowing that a British judge gave the movie An Inconvenient Truth a "spanking." What the judge really ruled was that An Inconvenient Truth is "broadly accurate" and "substantially founded upon scientific research and fact" and that it can be shown in schools as long as students are informed of nine "errors and omissions" -- none of which invalidate the major premises of the movie. Unhappily for Mr. Milloy et. al. Justice Barton declared that "These propositions, [which the government] submits (and I accept), are supported by a vast quantity of research published in peer-reviewed journals worldwide and by the great majority of the world's climate scientists."
  1. global average temperatures have been rising significantly over the past half century and are likely to continue to rise ("climate change");

  2. climate change is mainly attributable to man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide ("greenhouse gases");

  3. climate change will, if unchecked, have significant adverse effects on the world and its populations; and

  4. there are measures which individuals and governments can take which will help to reduce climate change or mitigate its effects.

Even the Judge's list of nine 'errors' is in dispute. Judge Barton claimed there was no evidence of any Pacific atolls being evacuated. Nobody showed him the newspaper. Judge Barton disputed that "coral reefs were bleaching because of global warming and other factors." The Judge's pointed out: "The actual scientific view, as recorded in the IPCC report, is that, if the temperature were to rise by 1-3 degrees Centigrade, there would be increased coral bleaching and widespread coral mortality, unless corals could adopt or acclimatise, but that separating the impacts of climate change-related stresses from other stresses, such as over-fishing and polluting, is difficult." The bottom line is:
  • The Judge does not dispute the IPCC report or the general scientific consensus about global warming.
  • The impacts on the coral cited by the IPCC are man-made.
  • Global climate changes that have a disastrous effect on human lives and societies are happening.

We need to address questions like "how do we provide clean drinking water after the glaciers melt" and "how do we support communities whose land is washing out from under them." Those problems aren't going to go away no matter how much junk science the Denial Brigade piles up to prove It's Not Really Happening.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Why peace is personal

Reposted in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who saw the connection between war and poverty, peace and justice:

"Living is a political act."

I cannot conceive of politics as something divorced from daily life, from "real life." Maybe part of it was how I was raised. Just as it was taken for granted that adults, male and female both, worked to support themselves and their families; that reading books out of personal interest and writing just because you wanted to were common human activities; it was also taken for granted that "government of the people, for the people, and by the people" meant that each of us was obligated to have an informed opinion and do something about it. What happened in the world affected us, and we could have an effect on what happened in the world.

For most of my life, however, that meant voting, occasionally campaigning for a particular issue or candidate, occasionally marching and chanting "Vague Liberal Slogans! Vague Liberal Slogans!"

Becoming homeless, and becoming active in the organized homeless community of Seattle, made me much more active in participatory democracy. I learned that power protects itself by being boring, and that if you avoid all those dreary budget meetings and council hearings and leave them to the people who "have the time for such things," those people are going to have power over decisions that affect your life, and you won't.

I learned that survival is a political act, and that getting bureaucrats to consider survival an important issue is a horrifyingly difficult struggle.

I learned that homelessness kills.

June 28, 2006, our Women in Black group stood vigil for eight homeless people who had died without shelter, in King County. One of them was a newborn baby. Two weeks later, we stood vigil for a disabled homeless veteran who had been set on fire while sleeping in his wheelchair. One week after that, we stood vigil for a homeless woman who was very well-known to many of us, who was stabbed to death.

In the same period of time, several women in our community who had recently gotten housing died of various health issues. Homelessness takes its toll, even after it ends.

As the tragedies piled up, I was not handling them well. I couldn't even write about what I was feeling. It was the vigils and memorial services, sharing grief with others face-to-face and hug-to-hug, that kept me going.

And in the midst of this, I am working with the Committee to End Homelessness, repeatedly faced with the assertion, "It is politically impossible to create more shelter right now. Any money available has to go into long-term solutions, housing. The people outside can move directly into apartments when they are available -- they don't have to go to shelters first."

A man committed suicide last year after years on a housing waiting list -- his apartment came up three days after he died. Tonya Smith, the woman who was stabbed to death, was in recovery, and a treatment bed had opened for her -- people were searching for her for two days before she bled to death on the street. If she had a shelter bed, she could have been found. She would be in treatment right now -- not in her grave.

Since the King County Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness was launched, 1,300 new units of low-income housing have been created here -- and more than twice that many eliminated. That's a net loss. Under the Ten Year Plan, funders at all levels (public and private) are rewarding shelters and programs according to how many and how fast they get people into housing. Sounds good, hey? There is an increase on the street of people who are the most vulnerable, with the most difficulties, who are the hardest to get into housing. People like Douglas Dawson and Tony Smith.

People are dying out there -- while the Committee to End Homelessness trumpets success, and "it is politically impossible to create more shelter now."

And what does this have to do with peace? From the time I became active in this cause, through 2000, we were making a little bit of progress each year. The numbers of homeless people kept rising, but the shelters and services kept increasing too, and there were people getting out of homelessness every day.

From 2001 on, we have been slipping backward. It is a constant struggle just to keep what we have, and even with constant struggle, there is always some erosion each year. The numbers of homeless people keep rising. The numbers of homeless people who die outside without shelter, who die of violence -- including suicide -- keep rising. The economy keeps slipping, and states, counties and city governments are strapped for funds, and survival services to the very poor are the first to go. It's "mere survival." It isn't building anything.

While billions are spent each day on "security" that doesn't keep us safe and war that doesn't keep us safe, the economy is being drained, the poor get poorer, more people need help, and there is less help to be had.

The war in Iraq is killing my friends, right here on the streets of Seattle. Damn right I take it personally.

There have been many more deaths since I first wrote this. Not much else has changed.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Would you buy a used lobbyist from this man?

Mitt Romney was challenged by a reporter when he claimed that "lobbyists don't run my campaign." Here's the facts on the ground: Romney has accepted the second most money from lobbyists of any Republican presidential candidate; he has received the most endorsements from lobbyists of any Republican presidential candidate; a registered lobbyist is one of his senior advisers. A lot of his "advising" comes from lobbyists.

What happened after the spat (see the video) demonstrated why American journalism has become so abysmal. Glen Johnson, the reporter who called Romney on his b.s., was berated by Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, who claimed that "arguing" with the person giving a press conference is not "professional"!

It is not surprising that someone wanting to get a message reported his way defines the "profession" of journalism as "repeating whatever you are told." Fehrnstrom works for Romney; it's his job to get Romney's message reported Romney's way. That doesn't even upset me. Freedom of speech means that lying scumbags have the right to lie their scumbags off.

What upsets me is that all too many "journalists" follow the same definition of "objective journalism": "It isn't up to me to think about what's being said, only to parrot it." Journalists aren't supposed to work for the people they report on, they are supposed to work for the people they report TO. Us.

Come to think of it, I will have to qualify that. Some "journalists" work for the people who listen to them by giving them what they want to hear. Most of the people who cheered for Glen Johnson's "watchdog journalism" didn't check out his documentation; they believed what he said because it matches what they believe about Mitt Romney, so it has to be true. The people who agree that Glen Johnson acted unprofessionally won't be checking out his documentation, because what he said doesn't matches what they believe about Mitt Romney, so it can't be true. To those people, Ann Coulter is a journalist. She gives them what they want to hear.

Freedom of speech does not mean you have the right to lie without being challenged. And freedom of information does not mean that you have the right to pick and choose your information based on what you want the truth to be. Whether what we read is unflattering to a person we support or favorable toward someone we oppose, we have a responsibility to try to disprove our initial opinion before we decide its credibility. That is what "being objective" requires.

When you choose to be lied to, you have surrendered freedom. When you subject yourself to the rudeness of being proved wrong, you make yourself free.

Would you buy a used lobbyist from this man?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Environmental Law & Liberty

Some people consider laws protecting the environment to be an infringement on human liberty.

Can I dump my garbage onto your front lawn just because it's convenient for me? Or does government have a duty to protect your rights, as well as a duty to not interfere with mine?

Why should I have any more right to dump garbage into other people's air?

Responsible and considerate people do not drive across a neighbor's lawn, dump garbage over their fence, steal their cars, or blow car exhaust in their faces. Not everybody is responsible and considerate. We make social agreements on what is acceptable behavior, then we authorize public servants to use force to compel obedience to those agreements from people who do not want to respect them; people who do not want to respect the rights of the rest of us.

If you are against all law, and believe in total anarchy, then objection to environmental protection law is at least consistent. If laws against polluting the air that other people breathe are an infringement on individual rights, then so are laws against theft, rape, and dumping garbage on somebody else's lawn.

Very few human beings want to be robbed, beaten, raped or killed. Some, however, are quite willing to rob, beat, rape, and kill others. None of us objects to police enforcing laws to protect the majority of us from the minority that puts their own gratification above anybody else's rights.

Almost every human belong wants to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Many don't want to give up any of our accustomed pleasures and conveniences in order to avoid dirtying the air and water ourselves. It is just as justifiable to use the force of law to control the behavior of those who place their own gratification above the rights of everyone else to clean air, as it is to use the force of law to control those who place their own gratification above our rights to not have garbage dumped on our lawn.

The people who are most at risk of harm by environmental pollutants – very young, very old, sick, poor, and homeless people -- are those least able to take personal action against polluters. By taking group action, our society both protects the weakest among us and improves the health of all. Even short-sighted polluters.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Monday, January 7, 2008

Anitra does less than 600 words on same-gender marriage :-)

There are some ethical values that are universal. However, there is also a lot of disagreement about what is right and what is wrong, even among members of the same culture. There are Christians who think that none of us should drink coffee, or drink alcohol -- in any amount -- or dance with a member of the opposite sex, even if we're married to 'em. There are people who think that none of us should eat meat, wear leather, or even own animals as pets.

You have the right to say what you think is right, and argue for it. You do not have the right to do so unchallenged, or without criticism. You must do what you think is right. You do not have the right to impose your standards on others by force of law, arbitrarily.

The only justification for legally limiting the right of all individuals to act as they will is to protect the equal rights of all other individuals. Society has a legitimate interest in forbidding murder, theft, rape, arson, and other offenses against the rights and well-being of others. Society has a legitimate interest in enforcing the positive moral obligations we have to each other as fellow humans: to care for each other in illness and accident; to protect and raise children; to protect public health and prosperity.

If you can demonstrate that same-gender marriage causes a harm to others that they have a right to be defended against, or deprives others of a good they have a right to expect, then you can make a case for legally limiting the right to marriage. If not, you can't. You have a right to be protected from harm. You do not have a right to be protected from being offended.

It is good and proper to want to protect marriage. It does not protect marriage as a whole to limit and restrict it. We should be strengthening marital and family bonds, giving couples and families the support they need to take care of each other, rallying round when we see families in trouble. Forbidding people from entering bonds of caring for each other is the wrong way to go to strengthen society.

Approving a same-gender marriage is not approving the couple's sexual activity. No marital ceremony I know of, civil or religious, refers to how the couple are to have sex. The social approval of marriage is approval of the commitment to take care of each other and of any dependent. The social benefits given to married couples are to support the fulfillment of those obligations. Many heterosexual couples do things in their bedroom that some of their Christian neighbors would disapprove of. Nobody calls for dissolving their marriages because of it. What heterosexual couples do sexually together is none of the community's business, and neither is what homosexual couples do sexually together. What is the community's business is if they are taking care of each other and taking care of their dependents, and fulfilling their responsibilities to the community as a couple.

Methinks my fellow Christians should all stop being so blessed obsessed with sex. It's not healthy, son.

Barack Obama for Me

I've been torn for several months. Looking at the total positions of the candidates, the top four I was in agreement with, in order of ranking, were:

  1. Kucinich
  2. Gravel
  3. Obama
  4. Edwards
Of them all, Edwards seemed to be the only one directly addressing an issue very critical to me -- the wealth gap and how it shreds society and undercuts democracy; the spread of poverty in America and how many men, women AND children are being left behind and thrown away.

I donated a few bucks to Edwards each month for about a year and kept rooting for him. I think he has helped keep that issue from being ignored, even while so many people want to ignore it.

Even more than Obama's win in Iowa, his victory speech won a lot of us over. As one commentator said, "He didn't speak as a presidential candidate; he spoke as a President." Maybe I don't agree with him about absolutely everything, as I do with Dennis Kucinich. [*] If we're looking for a President who can pull a divided country together again after all the polarizing effects of the last eight years -- including the war and the wealth gap -- I think Obama's our best hope in the bunch.

I guess this is my Dear John letter. I'm going with Obama.

And even though Edwards and Richardson are the next closest to me on the Political Compass, I think Joe Biden would be a better pick as VP. He has at least some foreign policy experience; although "experience" isn't all that Hillary tries to make it out to be. I'll pick someone who has succeeded over someone who has failed; I'll pick someone who has failed and learned from it over someone who has never tried; but I'll pick someone who has never tried over someone who has failed and NOT learned from it.

* I may not agree with Dennis Kucinich about UFOs.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Ron Paul Polarization

I've seen passionate pro-Ron Paul and passionate anti-Ron Paul stories from liberals, and I've written a few myself.

I have talked with some intelligent, thoughtful Ron Paul supporters who say, "Yes, I disagree with him on abortion, etc; but we need a voice in the arena speaking about reigning in executive power, ending the war, and restoring civil rights." What worries me is the uncritical zealotry of so many of the Ron Paul supporters: "If you are for freedom, you are for Ron Paul; if you are against Ron Paul, you are against freedom!" Polarization kills brain cells. Uncritical support of ANYBODY is always dangerous.

Polarization against -- unconditional enmity -- also kills brain cells. Most of Ron Paul's supporters and most of Ron Paul's critics share common concerns. Instead of attacking Ron Paul, I think we should be presenting alternatives to accomplish the same goals: stop the war, reign in executive power, restore civil liberties.

Personally, I don't think that ANYBODY can "make you free." If individual citizens take more responsibility for our civic life, participate in our local government, get involved in our neighborhoods, we will make ourselves free. A President can only make that easier, or make it harder -- not do it for us. Bush made it harder. I think Ron Paul would make it harder, too -- and anybody else acting on Ron Paul's agenda. Kucinich, Gravel, Obama or Edwards would make it easier.

But NONE of them can do it for us. Yelling for a demagogue who will "make us free" is how countries get dictators.

And dictatorship is only helped by intellectuals who sneer at the "mob" and don't understand the desperation that drives them.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Resolution #25: Write More Humor

My husband, Wes Browning, is a master at making points lightly. I am not.

After 12 years of hanging out together (ten of those officially) Wes has conditioned me to at least make my points more concisely. I had developed, over the years, the habit of 1) make the point; 2) give an example of how it applies; 3) rephrase it; 4) give another couple of examples of how it applies; 5) rephrase it again; 6) pause for questions. Wes taught me to respect my listeners more; make the point briefly, and only elaborate IF somebody asks questions! (Or responds in a way that indicates she thought I said Wednesday when I actually said peanut butter.) He did this by saying, "Got it, move on," usually after about ten words. :D

I still get a lot more verbose in the written word, when I cannot see a reader's eyes and spot when they've "got it" and it's time to move on.

And I learned all by myself that every single time somebody came back to tell me that I had really, really helped them, I had been feeling "light" at the time; and every time that I was trying very intensely to do something very very IMPORTANT it more often resulted in a noxious mess.

I do write very informally sometimes. I do use humor. Still, when Wes and I introduce ourselves at social occasions, people tend to grip my hand and say in a low and earnest voice, "I am so moved by your writing"; and then he says his name and people tend to get a big daffy grin and hop up and down squealing, "You're Wes Browning! You make me laugh so much!"

It's not that I'm jealous. I like moving people. I want to move people. It's just that I'd like to make them laugh occasionally, too. Not that I'm jealous. They don't have to squeal.

Well, the capper was, Wes read my list of two dozen New Year Resolutions and he complained, "There's not even one funny one!" I can't even think of a funny New Year Resolution! So I thought of making Resolution #25 "Lighten the fuck up." But that sounds way too close to what my sister might say to me right now, or what I might say to my sister right now, anyway, I don't want to go there right now. So I'm making Resolution #25 just, "Write more humor." Not even pointed humor, topical humor, or subversive humor. Something that is funny just to be fun.

I'm even going to add #26: "Do at least one thing each day that is totally, purposelessly, just for fun."

A Hitch in Resolution #14

New Year Resolution #14 was to call or write to each of my family members at least once a week. I talked to my sister on the 1st, and one of my brothers on both the 1st and 2nd. The phone number that my Dad sent me didn't connect.

Tonight my sister began to rant at me because I expressed doubt that crackers who swamped a friend's chat-room were deliberately imitating her by repeatedly using OMG and WTF. Many times I have just let her rant; tonight I told her "Call me back later," and hung up. She did call me back when she had calmed down -- to tell me that she isn't speaking to me again. And I found out last night that I can't call her cell phone; like Dad's, I can't connect.

Actually, I can still write to both Dad and Sis, postal mail. They are moving around, but Dad told me that letters would be forwarded. Even if the letters never get delivered -- I can still write to them.

2 January 2008: Poetry of the day

Once again, I kept Resolution #20, "Write at least one poem a day," after going to bed. Last night's effort was more personal than the found poem from Burpee's catalog:


the world at eight was built on threads of dream
the world of eighteen on wires of anxiety
28, laid on planks of order and responsibility
38, on girders that explored into infinity
48 was built on hard cold dirt

at 58 my world is built on bones of pain
pain undergirds all laughter, love and pleasure
throbs behind all music, song and dance
tinges every taste
it's just there
it's just there
it's always there

and so is laughter
love and pleasure
music, song and dance
chocolate and winter greens
dreams and anxiety
order and responsibility
explorations into infinity
and the hard cold dirt

everything is always happening at the same time


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

1 January 2007: poetry of the day

I was on my way to bed "last night" (3 AM this morning) when I reminded myself that I had not yet written a poem, as per New Year Resolution #somethingorother [edit: it's #20]. Having approximately three neurons left standing, I wanted to do it as simply as possible, so I decided to make it a "found poem" built from the 2008 Burpee Catalog. I have a new appreciation of how sexy the Burpee catalog is.

Sexy Seeds

HoneyBunch, Fireball,
Tangerine Mama -
velvety chocolate sweetness doesn't fade.
Hot Tomato, Zowie!
Statuesque beauty with a Peppermint Twist.
Burpee is sexy!
Balboa is Blue.
White Wedding at 21.

The Wisdom of Crowds: book review

How collective decision-making works well; how it goes wrong.

The Wisdom of Crowds
by James Surowiecki
Anchor; Reprint edition (August 16, 2005), $14
ISBN: 0385721706

New Yorker business columnist James Suroweicki demonstrates that large groups of people can be smarter than an elite few, explaining both why democracy works, and also how it goes wrong.

The crowd can be wise: IF it is diverse; if it has a particular kind of decentralization; if its individual members think independently; and if they all have some information.

A group made up of only people who agree with each other (such as all-conservative OR all-liberal groups) make bad decisions. So will a group in which most members defer to the judgment of a few. And even a large and diverse group of independent-minded people are unlikely to make good engineering decisions if none of them know anything about engineering.

The collective judgment of a large and diverse group of voters, however, WHEN all of them have some information (even if each of them thinks all the others are misinformed), AND they are free to disagree and contest with each other, AND their individual opinions can be aggregated in a process that produces a collective judgment -- that judgment will be a good one. Not a perfect one, but good enough to live with, and better than an elite few could have decided for them.

Some of the elements of "why it goes wrong" connect with "how societies fail" in Collapse (by Jared Diamond). When a small group of decision-makers with centralized power are insulated from the effects of their decisions, you have a disaster in the making.

Suroweicki makes the point that the input of each individual's local information and personal self-interest is important, and essential to making democracy work. Each individual voter does not have to be fully informed about all factors affecting everybody; each individual does have to have a way to get our own information into the pot and our personal questions answered.

The book is a good contribution to understanding how Homo Wannabe Sapiens could actually become Homo Sapiens Sapiens, but it is just a starting point. Much more needs to be written on how to create good group decisions, and how to avoid bad ones. Quickly, before a dumb, partisan, groupthink mob runs us all off the edge of a cliff.

Some quotes:

"Gustave Le Bon had things exactly backward. If you put together a big enough and diverse enough group of people and ask them to 'make decisions affecting matters of general interest," that group's decisions will, over time, be 'intellectually [superior] to the isolated individual,' no matter how smart or how well informed he is."

"Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise... Paradoxically, the best way for a group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as possible."

Also worth reading: Blink and The Wisdom of Crowds, a dialog between James Surowiecki and Malcolm Gladwell, in Slate magazine.

If you would like to help me buy more books, please rate this article on Gather.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Personal New Year Resolutions

I didn't even think of New Year Resolutions until a vendor mentioned his to me yesterday. Then I came up with a flood, especially after Wes began writing his.

I listed a lot of my resolutions in my first 2008 post:

  1. Help establish at least one new family shelter in Seattle.
  2. Continue my garden/compost/worm projects. (Wes says it's good to include at least one resolution that you are certain you will keep.)
  3. Keep a more thorough garden journal, and post to my garden blog at least once a week.
  4. Help start at least one new (organic) urban garden in Seattle.
  5. Find a way to continue fresh greens at the Union community meals this winter.
  6. Help homeless shelters, homeless day programs, and other low-income apartment buildings find ways to grow fresh greens.
  7. Add at least one native, heirloom plant to my garden this year, and save the seeds.
  8. Post at least one "environmental justice" entry each week, making the connection between human issues and environmental issues.
  9. Post at least one "public health" entry each week, promoting public health programs and health education.
  10. Keep myself informed about health services available to homeless and low-income people and be alert for people who need that information.
  11. Record the origins of all of my purchases and increase the percentage of those purchases from local sources, and from suppliers who operate fairly and ethically.
  12. Make at least one post a week promoting a company that operates fairly and ethically.
  13. Make at least one post every week that promotes critical thinking and public education.
  14. Talk or write to each family member at least once a week. (Already today I have received calls from my sister and one of my brothers.)
  15. Do more conscious mentoring of new people in the WHEEL, SHARE and Real Change homeless communities.
  16. Stay in closer communication with my friends. Take more time for "hanging out."
  17. Do more writing workshops.
  18. Do more public speaking.
That makes eighteen. :) Now for more personal resolutions:
  1. Continue rebuilding good self-care habits that went out during my depression earlier this year.
    • Get more physical exercise.
    • Drink more water, less sodapop.
    • Eat more vegetables.
    • Eat more whole grains, less refined sugar.
    • Keep up with my magnesium and other supplements I know help me stay stable and healthy.
  2. Write a poem a day (even if it's lousy).
  3. Submit at least one thing for publication, somewhere, each week.
  4. Publish at least one chapbook of my own.
  5. Put together a (bound) book by the end of the year.
  6. Blog regularly. Rant more.
That makes two dozen even. I think I'll stop there. :D

Happy New Year!

Just a photoshopped photo found through StumbleUpon, with no attribution. If anyone knows where it comes from, please comment. It looks to me like that kid wants out of there. :D

New Year Resolutions for the Common Good

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
That is the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States. It recognizes that all of us do have a "general welfare." There are needs and interests that we all share in common, a common good, and it is the legitimate role of government to promote that common good.

This is my list of survival goals that bridge ideological divisions. These seem a good starting point for working together on practical policies that can be agreed on by a broad group. They are also things we can each act on in our own small ways every day. It seemed like a good framework for New Year resolutions.
  1. The health, welfare, and education of children is important to all of us, both emotionally and practically.
    • In 2008, I pledge to see at least one new family homeless shelter established in Seattle, Washington.
  2. Clean air, clean water, clean ground, safe and nutritious and sufficient food, are critical to the survival of all of us.
    • In 2008, I will continue to garden, compost, and raise worms behind our apartment building.
    • In 2008, I will post to my garden blog at least once a week.
    • I will also help establish at least one new urban garden (using organic methods) in Seattle.
    • In the next three months, I will find a way to continue to provide fresh greens for community meals through the winter.
    • I will help homeless shelters, homeless day programs, and other low-income apartment buildings find ways to grow fresh greens.
  3. Life is highly adaptable, but thrives best within certain parameters of climate and resources. Maintaining and even expanding those parameters is therefore important to all of us.
    • In 2008, I will use this blog to increase awareness of the connection between human well-being and environmental well-being. I will post at least one "environmental justice" entry each week.
  4. Good public health is essential for the good personal health of all of us. This includes the health of plants and animals.
    • In 2008, I will help promote local public health programs. I will post at least on public health entry a week.

    • I will keep myself informed about health services available to homeless and low-income people and be alert for people who need that information.
  5. All living things are intricately interdependent in a complex biosphere human science is only beginning to understand. It is critical to our mutual survival to maintain the health of that biosphere, which includes its biodiversity.
    • In 2008, I will add at least one native, heirloom plant to my garden, and save the seeds.
  6. Trade, both in the free exchange of goods and services and the free exchange of ideas, has been a foundation of human prosperity and advancement. It is in the interests of all of us to protect an atmosphere for free and fair trade. That requires an atmosphere of equal rights enforced by law; a universal standard of justice. It requires protection and support of the weaker members of society so that all are equal in bargaining power in the marketplace and in the enforcement of contracts. The maintenance of equal trade, equal rights, and equal justice is therefore a common good, a common survival goal.
    • In 2008, I will record the origins of all of my purchases and increase the percentage of those purchases from local sources, and from suppliers who operate fairly and ethically.

    • I will make one post a week promoting an organization that operates fairly and ethically.
  7. Accurate knowledge is a critical survival resource. Increasing our mutual knowledge, and policing error, is another common good. Public critical inquiry and open debate is the most effective means yet found for that. Increasing the knowledge and the critical and creative thinking skills of another is an increase of our own good. Education is a common good.
    • In 2008, I will make at least one post every week that promotes critical thinking and public education.
  8. The most important factor to individual human survival, since we became social animals, is other human beings. The creation and maintenance of social bonds is important to all of us, whether we like thinking of it as something we need, or not. People do need people. We will all be better off by making sure that others have strong social bonds, as well as ourselves.
    • In 2008, I will talk or write to each family member at least once a week.

    • In 2008, I will do more conscious mentoring of new people in the WHEEL, SHARE and Real Change homeless communities.

    • In 2008, I will stay in closer communication with my friends in Raging Grannies and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
  9. We are each unique, with unique gifts. Other people can see things, think of things, say things, make things that I do not, that I could not. It benefits me to appreciate and encourage the uniqueness of others. The increase of human creativity and individual expression is a common good.
    • In 2008, I will do more writing workshops.
  10. An ethical culture, in which all people are treated as we ourselves would like to be treated, is important to all of us. Promoting an ethic of honesty, fairness, kindness, and compassion protects us personally from fraud, exploitation, abuse and neglect. Promoting the human rights of all is the best way to assure our own.
    • In 2008, I will do more public speaking on social justice issues.
In blogging terms, that's:
  1. One garden blog entry a week.
  2. One environmental justice blog entry a week.
  3. One public health entry a week.
  4. One entry a week promoting a business that is operating ethically.
  5. One entry a week on critical thinking and countering misinformation.
... which seems doable. So let's see. :D

Happy New Year!