Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why I think national health care might be good for small businesses

There used to be several (& still are a few) family/mom&pop farm supply/feed store type places within just a few miles of our house. They carry a lot of the same stuff, which comes as no surprise I am sure, but horse feed distributors often require an exclusive contract with any retailers. So while there was a store actually just around the corner, the brand I feed my horses was carried by the father&son business on the other side of the stoplight downtown.

Still, I did an awful lot of business with the shop close by. First because they were close by, but also because of G******. She took care of the sales inside & printed the tickets for anything that needed to be picked up at any of the bays outside. She was almost the first person in town to learn my name. She remained one of the few to pronounce it correctly. She knew what brands of whatever everyone bought & how often. She could remind you of what you meant to get when you brought what you remembered to the counter. & when I first met her, she was a junior in high school.

Right around the time G***** graduated, a large chain built their first store in town. Let's call them Tractor Supply. In the first months they were open I went maybe twice. The shelves were stocked with stuff I would love to buy & the prices were lower than at the small local-owned stores . The drawback was (& remains) that you would be hard pressed to find someone who could help with anything. There were plenty of employees wandering around, talking on their walkie-talkies but most of the conversations went like this: Do you carry Cowboy Magic? If we did I think it would be over there; Can someone help me load these 50lb bags into the back of my truck? No ma'am I have a bad back & so does he; the list goes on.

Not long after graduation, G***** went to work for the big newcomer. I missed her terribly at the small mom&pop & told her so whenever I ran into her. She said it came down to one thing: health insurance. The small mom&pop would put her on their plan, but would not pay much towards her premium. She could not afford not to take the other job.

It will surprise no one that G***** is now long-gone from our local Tractor Supply. She moved quickly up the ladder & last I heard was assistant manager at a store about 30 miles from here. & I can guess the mom&pop are kicking themselves because within a month after she left, they started to go downhill. The rotating crew that worked behind the counter never did get a good idea of what anybody was likely to buy. I would often go in & find standard items out of stock for weeks at a time (livestock antibiotics, for example or dog food), I was often given a story about how suppliers were all out but as neither Tractor Supply nor the place I bought my horse feed seemed to be having the same problem, I never believed them.

After not walking through the door for well over a year, I recently tried to do business with them again. I called & asked if they had a particular horse grooming product in stock & was told, yes absolutely, a whole shelf of it. When I got there less than five minutes later, I could not find this "whole shelf" . When I asked (& was asked if I was the lady who called) I was shown to a shelf of an entirely different product & was told it was the same thing. I asked to speak to the manager; I was already speaking with the manager. I showed her the list of ingredients on the label & pointed to the one my horse is allergic to & said the other brand, the brand I asked if they carried, does not have that ingredient. Her response: "I don't know nothing about that, I just know they are the same thing".

Would G****** have stayed forever if health insurance concerns were off the table? Probably not. But the small business owner would be more competitive when it came to keeping people who are valuable to them if health care coverage was the same for everyone, no matter who they worked for.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Won't you be my neighbor?

Foreclosures have finally come to my little island. Not that I live on an island; I live in the only town in the county with no surface water & no water = no island. I also live in the state with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, in a county with one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the country.

There has been a lot of speculation about why that is: Is it because so many university people live on soft-money renewed every year so they make large down payments & qualify only for smaller loans? Is it because the family farms here are smaller overall than in the mid-west so they have been able to hold on? Whatever the reason (or more likely reasons), it probably helped that we are effectively a mid-sized county in a state famous for having the most rural & the most urban counties. Everything is milder in the middle.

The house in question flew up a few years ago. It was OKay, but boring: white straight siding, no plantings except grass. We rarely saw anyone outside, they watered their lawn at strange times & aggressively. Seriously, they once watered for three straight days, 24 hours a day. Then nothing until all the grass was burned & brown. Then they watered non-stop & it came back. This was actually the first clue the house was a rental.

The second clue is inside. I have been told each bedroom has a complete bathroom, but the house itself has no 1/2 bath for guests. Neither does mine (have a 1/2 bath; we make guests use the yard), but then again our three bedrooms do not each have an en suite, either. This floor plan is typical of the student-rentals close to campus, but I really have no idea who thought there needed to be one out here.

Since the sign went up, a number of things have been done to make it look more like a home & less like an apartment block. I know some of the trees in front are new (I think there were only two before) & all of the flowers. I admit I am tempted every time a go by & see the door open &/or cars in the driveway to ask to have a look. & I am quite sure they would let me see all I want, I just have not had the time.

So it goes on the auction block in early-June. I am guessing it could be quite the financial coup for the person who wants to live there. Maybe with a couple roommates...? Maybe not.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When pollsters come calling

A has been aggravated by the volume of polls he receives via e-mail. He never answers & therefore seems to get the same one several dozen times. No amount of get-me-the-hell-off-your-list seems to work. & then we got to talking about a technique of mine that has been working very well.

Not long after we moved into this house, we started getting calls asking us what we were watching on television. What did we usually watch. How much did we watch. What would we like to see more of.

What made this all extra-special-stoopid was we always told the truth: we are not watching anything. Cable was not (still is not) offered on our rural road & we were (then) too cheap to spring for a satellite dish we did not have time to watch anyway. We got only one channel: the local public television station. So our morning news program was Teletubbies. Our evening news was McNeil-Lehrer Report. Our favorite Saturday night program; why re-runs of the old Lawrence Welk Show of course.

This went on for years. Every couple months (or weeks) we got a call & they called & called & called until we gave them some kind of answer (this is in the days before Do Not Call). Until one day, I snapped. What are we watching: Gay Porn. In fact that is all we ever want to see. Our family wants nothing but man-on-man action preferably during the family hour. They have not called since.

A few people have suggested my hostile tone was the reason for the shut-off, but I swear I had been much more hostile many times before. I had hung up, I has asked that they stop calling, I had requested their home numbers, I had wondered if they were not just the teeniest bit embarrassed to be somewhere below telephone sex workers & dial-a-psychics. I was already plenty hostile. But call & call & call again, nothing seemed to work. Until I queered their data. & yes I do mean that sentence to go both ways.

This understanding has come in handy since. Most recently we somehow got put on a conservative christian phone-tree clearly drumming up votes for McCain/Palin. I am almost convinced that someone sold them the wrong list because there is nothing in our activities, spending habits, etc. that would give anyone the idea we were either conservative or christian.

The first time I laughed out loud & hung up. The next time I said I did not support the Republican ticket & could they please stop calling. Then I stopped answering when the caller id could remotely-possibly be them. Finally I decided to answer their questionnaire. Question one: have I made up my mind about how I will vote- yes I have. Question two: what was the most important influence in my choosing a candidate- choosing of Sarah Palin as a running mate. Question three: have I campaigned for my candidate- yes, absolutely. Question four: can they count on my vote for McCain/Palin in November- not a chance, I was always going to vote for Obama (a white lie: I was really going to vote for Hilary Clinton, but it was moot by then), adding Palin to the ticket just got me off the couch campaigning for the other side. I actually heard his busy little typing fingers stop & the guy sighed. Final question: what would I say was the likelihood I would not vote for McCain/Palin. & so I told him it was 300%. If I should die before the election I planned to rise from the dead & cast my vote for Obama/Biden. & that was the end of it, no more republicans-in-disguise calls.

I think it is just too disheartening for them to record a statistics so far from their own agenda. I not mean to single out political parties, I think we would all like to makeup our minds & then find that data to prove it. So when it comes to polls that just will not go away, if you can figure out what they really do not want to hear , you can get yourself off the list.

//A reminded me of my gay-porn solution while we were watching commercials during the Science channel's Geek Pride week-end programing. The actual program on the screen at the time was about six degrees of separation & well worth watching. If A had received one of the letters though, he is not sure he would have forwarded it. I, on the other hand, live for that crap. & I am almost certain I would not have deliberately mailed the letter as far away from the destination as possible. Not the first one anyhow.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Meet Newt

This is the new man in my life. His name is Newt. His dad is in Iraq until ?November? & Newt's original (post-dad's-deployment) living arrangement was not working out. So he is staying with us while an alternative arrangement is made. Yeah, we expect to have him right up until Thanksgiving.

Today, we are celebrating Memorial Day trying to help a future veteran not lose someone he loves while he is away. It does not have quite the same patriotic fervor as buying new appliances, but the fact is, all my appliances work fine. & I do not need any more sheets. & we just painted the house last year.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The end of a good thing

For a while a while ago, I used to volunteer a good chunk of my time here. & here is still there, but the part I saw grow will soon be gone. I am not entirely sure when S** got the idea but she decided/thought/reasoned that a small cottage industry-type arrangement right there at the house to occupy the residents, might make a little cash maybe, but more important it would give everyone involved the general idea of what it was to show up for work, organize your schedule & take pride in what you can do & that this was a good thing. & while she was there it was a wonderful thriving thing.

But on her leaving, things changed. The person that replaced her understood S**'s concept, but somehow someone else in the organization looked at the little sewing space & saw dollar signs. & all the trying to convince her that I am actually pretty good at this & I could not support a dog on what I would make versus how does she think complete novices to the concept of work are going to do it made any difference. Actually it did: it made her tell me I was too negative. & I took my contrary ass home.

I know it is useless going to the board & showing up this folly. In December '07 I got an earful from one of the board members on how he thought the CI should set aside time for Quilts of Valor. Do not get me wrong, QoV is a wonderful program. & the people who send quilts in win awards for their work; they did not learn to sew last week. I could not tell if I should be insulted on behalf of the truly outstanding pieces donated to QoV, or invite him to CI to see what kind of work a new sewer can actual handle (& how many years it would take to piece the quilt top he proposed). In the end I just sat there with my mouth hanging open & a "you are f*cking with me, right?" look in my eye.

I think my favorite part of this whole story is this same manager is actively pursuing opening a restaurant under the AH/CI umbrella. She knows nothing about the food business (or she would know the odds of an experienced willing-to-work restaurateur failing) & she knows what the residents are capable of in terms of cooking ...& hygiene. I am telling everyone who tells me that she should be encouraged in this. Complete catastrophic failure might be the only thing that saves the rest of the organization.

Sooooo, anyone who has been holding onto orphans for the Dali bags, or scraps you have leftover or fabric you bought when you were drunk, you can keep hanging on to it I am not going back. & before anyone calls me & says they are sure the CI is still there, I know it is. & I know it will not be for long, no matter what the plan is.

& no, I am not bitter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bernardine of Siena

You think there is no patron for compulsive gamblers? Wanna bet? Saint Bernardine of Siena is also the patron of public relations & advertising. How ever shall these be reconciled?

According the the index, he was very popular with the ladies. As a preacher. No, really. & the primary subject of his sermons was the damage done by gossip which could lead to vendettas by aggressive males. It sounds to me like he might have been preaching to the choir. A lot of preaching to the choir, as he is also invoked against hoarseness.

Actually, I have deliberately misled you. Initially, Bernardine was hoarse & therefore did not preach (despite having joined an order dedicated to missionary preaching) but he was moved by devotion to Mary & his hoarseness was cured & then he could preach. Or so the story goes. He was very unpopular with many other preachers (if you have been following my other saints posts you might notice a trend), but drew large crowds wherever he went. & quite the show it was, what with the collective weeping & exorcisms. Am I the only one who hears shades of Neil Diamond here?

Today, Bernardine's insignia is much better known than the man himself. He adopted the symbol IHS as his own, ultimately displacing many other standards (& the preachers that went with them, no doubt). Here we are back to jealousy, gossip & aggressive men. Where would the church be without them?

I am not really sure what the message is here. Let symbols & slogans do your talking for you? Make your weakness your strength? Pretend your strength used to be a weakness? Forget about separation of church & state & work on separating them both from theater? Or maybe just be reconciled to the world, keep your head, use your brain & try not to make everyone around you crazy.

Or maybe it is to give the dice the best shake you can & roll hard.

//originally I linked to the Atomic Fireballs cover of Luck Be a Lady, but it has been removed. Too bad, but it gives me cause to just order you, my useless minions to go & buy Torch This Place & Birth of the Swerve. If not for me, do it for the economy, because if we stop buying jazz, the terrorists win. Or wait, maybe fraudulent investment executives win...? I get confused. Did I mention whats-his-face is also the patron of ad men? I did? Well, it never hurts to say these things twice.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What would Mervyn do?

Following my last post I got a number of messages. Pleasantly, most them wanted to know what the hell a Gormenghastian is. Around the time that Tolkien's books were cutting their swathe, Mervyn Peake published his own world view. Like Tolkien, he had maybe spent too much time being gassed in the trenches. I do not know this I am only guessing.

I have never actually read the Lord of the Rings books. I struggled through The Hobbit because C***** was reading it & I thought I should make an effort. I then made it clear that for the rest, she was on her own.

I never would have heard of Gormenghast had it not been for B***. She knew we got BBC on our satellite & asked me to tape it for her (the series had not yet played on PBS & yes, we still taped programs; it was a while ago). I did tape it for her & then discovered that the broadcast had been interrupted to cover the annual marches & accompanying violence. So I watched the whole damn thing to see which episodes I needed to retape (all of them). Let me go on record: watching people shoot & gas each other over a dispute that makes the Palestinian/Israeli conflict look nouveau was a blessed relief when compared to this program. That being said, all you Tudors fans want to put it on hold because this is the very creepy role that put Jonathan Rhys Meyers on the map.

It has been suggested that I do not like them (Tolkien, Peake) because of the religious leanings. On the other hand I do like the Narnia books & they are more overtly religious than all the others. Of course I missed this completely the first time I read them. When someone finally clued me in, my first Aslanic insight was "organized religion is an artful predator"; probably not the message C.S.Lewis meant to send.

So what would Mervyn do? I haven't the faintest idea.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Innie outie, innie innie, outie outie

My bookclub has just wrapped up Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian. It seems that gay was in the air for me generally, as I also just finished Haven Kimmel's The Used World (which I picked because M****** has often recommended the author & it looked like a painted lady on the cover). I found the latter slow but the former grueling in its detail. I do not mean the details of transsexual male-to-female surgery which at least had the grace of being new-to-me details. I mean 2+ pages on which student may or may not have slipped something into a pile of in-class workpapers on the teacher's desk. It was almost more than I could cope with.

But they were both interesting.

Just this past election (& by that I mean March 2009), one town over voted on a re-write that would have disenfranchised a large group of people including gays, transgenders, et al by removing protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The focus of the campaign literature (but by no means the campaign agenda) was drag queens in public restrooms. I do not have to make this sh*t up, people.

& because the re-write progenitors were fond of using children to illustrate their ends, I started breaking it down into sound bytes a child could understand. My take on the re-write adverts was if you CAN pee standing up you MUST pee standing up.

Naturally, all sexuality roads lead to gay marriage. I freely admit to being confused, flummoxed & generally broadsided by the idea that two men or two women being married to each other has anything at all to do with me. Unless they make it mandatory, because to paraphrase Jon Stewart, my husband would not like that. I think I am always so surprised (& I really always am; I am blonde that way) because while sex is important, it is hardly all that makes a marriage. I can only speak for my marriage, but it is about food & television & laundry & bad running inside jokes & so many other things not germane to the in & out bits.

& I am often sucker-punched by the idea that while kids can be trotted out to hold signs & sit at the petition-signature gathering tables, the real reason mommy & daddy are doing this is because they want to keep their children safe from the awareness of gay marriage. After all, what would happen if we had to explain what gay marriage is? It would burst their little brains. Well, I think I might be able to help with that:

While I am part of an innie outie marriage myself, I know people in innie innies & outie outies, too. These three camps are a lot like Trekkies, Lord of the Rings enthusiasts & Star Wars aficionados. Everyone is aware of the other camps & sometimes some of us even visit them, but as we grow up we all realize which sci-fi/fantasy genre is best for us. Oh sure, there are the occasional deviants; those Hitchhikers Guide people are a bit off, but we try to love them anyway. Those outright pervs, the Gormenghastians need to be avoided, though. & Dune! Do not get me started on Dune.

I agree, it needs some work. Also, I have completely left off Red Dwarf & the hero of the transgender: Kryten. & it was from him that I ripped off the whole in&out bits bit. Isn't that just the way these things go?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tread softly

A couple week-ends ago, while A cut up the pine tree that went down in the storm while he was away, I dug up the Tread Softly that had grown up around it. In the end he was horribly bitten by fire ants & I could have left the plant alone. But it has to come out, it is nothing but trouble & this really is the best time of year.

I am fond of the crazy common names of plants. I like it when different plants have the same name. I like it when the same plant has different names. I like the old european names, the patently native american names, the absurd moshes of the two. I like them all. But hands down, Tread Softly just might be my favorite. Favorite name, that is.

It is hard to say when I first encountered this plant, but I can tell you she does not improve with familiarity. The specimens collected over 100 years ago still need to be handled with gloves. So far at least, the poison never dies.

She is a hardy girl, surviving sun & drought but definitely preferring tempered shade. Tread Softly grows densest where it is hardest to pull, beneath fallen trees for example, or immediately under fence lines. I wear a pair of gloves that have been soaked & shrunk to my hands through use, the leather is dense & tight & in the course of three or fours hours work at least half-dozen tiny little spines worked their way into my fingers. & there was no continuing until the spine had been pulled back out.

From a distance, she is rather lovely. Rich dark green leaves, truly white flowers , not cream not yellow (at least not until the specimen has been aged). Clear & dramatic leaf shape. Unmistakable. & untouchable.

Still every spring I am tempted to press just a few. Get them under glass where they cannot be touched & just be admired. What stops me is knowing that in the time from when I first collect the plant until the specimen is sufficiently dry to go under glass, I will be vulnerable. Those spears will make their way from the press in my workroom to every other room in my house. & long after the originals are gone from the press I will find myself stabbed with yet another barb that somehow got left behind.

//while writing this I learned it is also called Finger Rot. I kinda like that, too.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This is the time of year I wish I had a brain tumor

In '07, fire season came early & forecasters are predicting another big year for '09. From now until the first heavy rain (usually roundabout July), I will smell smoke. Most of it will be real.

I have heard that there is a particular part of the brain that responds to pressure (pressure as in the physical pressure of a growing tumor, not the other kind) by signaling the smell of smoke. People with this tumor walk around asking everyone "do you smell smoke" until they drop dead of said tumor. I realize this might be one of those soap opera diseases, but there are days I wish I had it.

That's right, I would rather just drop dead of a brain tumor than watch my home (or actually my animals) be consumed by fire. I am not good with fire. I was well into my 2os before I was comfortable lighting a paper match. You know the kind I mean, the matches that come in a flimsy matchbook & the cardboard is so cheap you worry they will flop around & light up your fingernails. Okay maybe I am the only one that worries about that.

The year after we moved here, two days after Christmas, our neighbor-over-the-back-fence had an electrical fire (the source being the unzoned trailer home I have previously mentioned). The flames took about fifteen minutes to sweep across his yard, consume our back fence & start moving towards our house. This was a slow moving fire. The fire department spent what I would describe as a ridiculous amount of time trying to put out the mobile home. They more or less ignored the creeping towards the property line until the row of pine trees went up like bottle rockets. The whooshing sound of twenty 'kerosene pines' popping & flaming at once got them to turn around. I remember the look on the senior fire-guy's face. He looked like he wished he was somewhere else. Every pasture for miles was ringed by a continuous chain of pine trees. & every farm had its own entrance from the road that may or may not be the street for which the lot has a street address.

Since that time we have put in a few gates. One of them links the back of our pasture with the back of W*****'s & D******'s; when this happens again, there will be another way to get firetrucks in & livestock out.

But on that day, the only reason we did not lose everything was D***** on one side & G*** on the other. They both worked tirelessly, brought their own buckets, their own hoses, shovels & rakes & spent the entire day watering down a large swath of grass about ten feet into our pasture. They both knew when to give up on the back line well before the fire crew. They have both put out more than one fire before (D****** on this very property when the grass grew long & then dried, touching the hotwire the then-current owner had put up to corral their stallion; G*** lost his childhood home to a fire, while he was still a child).

I remind myself how lucky we were to learn about fire that particular day. Now D****** is working out-of-state more than he is home & G*** has been dead almost two years. & I am more frightened than ever when I wonder if the person who best knows what to do when it happens again just might be me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What would Pete do?

& by Pete I mean the birthday boy himself, Pete Seeger.

It would be impossible to list his accomplishments (if you are a fan) or his misdeeds (if you are not) here. Sure, they are usually the same actions, but they are just too numerous, so let me give you the highlights:

The Weavers were the first (known) American musicians investigated for sedition. Someone in Hoover's FBI leaked this information & they thought their careers were over. Suddenly, despite numerous hit records, radios stopped playing them & they were banned from appearing on national television. On December 24, 1955 they sold out Carnegie Hall.

Pete Seeger served with the USArmy in World War II. While he was enlisted, he met & married his wife, the Japanese-American activist Toshi Ohta. They are still married.

Pete Seeger never denied joining the Communist Party. He was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era & took it pretty well, by all accounts. I have heard him speak about people he thought were friends who abandoned him. & he has been generous & sympathetic.

Pete Seeger was sentenced to prison for contempt, first 12 months for refusing to appear before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee & then for 10 years for refusing to cooperate with the committee. Among his crimes: he refused to name any other names to the committee. The sentence 12 months was reversed, largely due to international pressure. Seeger began serving the second sentence in 1961. He was released in 1962 when his case was dismissed on a technicality.

Upon his release, however Pete Seeger was still blacklisted & still needed to make a living. He took every job he could get. He was a pioneer on the college circuit, which become an integral part of how information specifically banned from newspaper, radio & television is disseminated in this country.

Today is Pete Seeger's 90th birthday. He is (as of this typing) still alive & performing. He lends his name to countless social service organizations. Joseph McCarthy is not alive & doing much less well; he & the rest of the committee have become associated with one of the most embarrassing periods in our political history. Embarrassing from a distance, immeasurably destructive to those that fell victim.

& the answer to what would Pete do is the right thing: “I say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.”

Friday, May 1, 2009

The chick is in the mail

I have ordered my (baby) hens to arrive the week of June 8. & I still spent much of March & April cruising slowly past the peep bins at all the local feed stores.

I ordered the three french hens, as threatened & yet, there is something about mongrel/mystery chicks. Their little chirpchirpchirp draws me in. Still, I managed to turn down an offer of FREE TO GOOD HOME chicks. Actually I made the 'to good home' part up. I do not think they care, they just have too many. Unfortunately the chicks are the result of unknown parentage & we do not know what might be X & what might be Y. No one will know until the boys start beating up the girls... & the other boys who may or may not still look just like the girls. There probably is a way to sex them, but without knowing the contributing parent on either side it is hard to guess what that way might be.

So I did very well keeping my hands on my shopping cart & not reaching for the mystery birds. I kept reminding myself, my chicks are in the mail. Or they will be by the beginning of next month.

& then L**** e-mailed that she bought some birds she really did not have room for & thy made more. They made more birds, not more room. W***** has agreed o take t rooster & adult hens to the farm where they can live out their days in the barns, doing general insect control, but the babies, the babies will need good homes.

This means, of course that I will get a few mystery birds (mystery gender, L**** knows what kinds of birds she has, but alas they are breeds not easily sexable until maturity) after having resisted so well for so long. Ah well, at least it is warm out & they will not need the lamp for long. After all, I have more birds due in just over a month.