Facebook is using me

Last night I saw a link to something that's supposed to show you what you will look like in 20 years. Since I don't really expect to be around to see what I look like at 97 I tried it. Before I saw the picture they asked for too much information from me. I closed the screen and thought that was the end of it. Uh uh. The link was posted to all my friends on Facebook. I'm really pissed. There seems to be no easy way to reach the Facebook minders, so I'm telling everyone how annoyed I am.

Past pollution meets present day corruption

I often speak to my ESL students about democracy. Most of them don't really understand what we are all about (I'm not sure I know lately, either), and most of them are unrealistic about the US, loving us, or hating us too much. I am always pleased when I have an opportunity to demonstrate some of our professed values in action.

Back in December, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran a series of articles about air pollution in Western Pennsylvania–how fine particulate in the air causes asthma, lung cancer, other lung diseases and heart disease. They told stories about the problems individuals and families living near our coal fired power plants have, and presented statistics showing a huge number of deaths above the national average from these causes. You can read the series here.

In order to keep the message alive a meeting was held at Chatham University, attended by me, my two students and several hundred others. The reporters gave an overview of the problem and several of the affected individuals told their horrifying stories—children suffering with asthma, proliferation of lung cancer deaths within their communities, well water polluted so that it was not only not drinkable, but caused skin rashes when they showered with it corroded pipes and faucets so badly they had to be replaced every two years. 

I was hoping to show my ESL students that this is the way democracy should work. What did we learn? My Chinese student learned that the Chinese aren't the only ones with pollution problems. He was clearly impressed with that. My Russian student lived in Sweden for twenty years before coming here. I'm not sure what she learned. I learned, not for the first time, that our elected officials have no shame and don't care about what happens to their constituency, so long as the industry involved continues to support their tenure in office.

The lessons are clear: in the name of creating cheap power we allow the industry to be lax and shift the cost away from all of us and on to the backs of a few individuals who pay dearly. The most obvious lesson is the ineffectiveness of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which seems to be protecting only the companies creating the environmental problems.

All of this has to do with rectifying past sins, but we have learned nothing. The day after the meeting, the head of the Pennsylvania DEP announced that all permits and enforcement actions for Marcellus shale drilling would be issued by his office. We know he isn't concerned about air or water quality. His only concern is to give the gas drilling industry the greatest freedom possible. Pennsylvania is not taxing or taking any kind of removal fee. The only authority looking out for the public interest is the DEP and they sold out. See the links below for more information.

We haven't learned our lessons from air pollution, now we will poison our water supply.

This is the story I told during my fifteen minutes of fame at the Waffle Shop. But I made one mistake. The interviewer asked me what she could do and I talked about contacting elected officials. That's obviously hopeless. These college kids should be out marching in the streets, just like they are doing in the middle east. It's their water and their air we are poisoning. Because of my age and the fact that I already have heart disease, it won't matter so much to me; it should matter hugely to them. We have allowed our democracy to be sold to the highest bidder. Our children will pay more dearly for this than they will for the debt the Republicans are screaming about.

Ronni Bennett, at Time Goes By, has a wonderful post about the choices we face for our democracy. If you haven't read it, go there now.


Post-Gazette Air Pollution series

The sell-out











Sunday stroll

The sun was shining when I left home, although they promised rain or snow for tonight. Even though I wasn't going to do it, I walked more than four miles today. I'm not as tired as last week, so we'll see what happens tonight. This time I walked to East Liberty and the Waffle Shop. They have a live feed broadcast where they interview people. I decided I wanted to be interviewed: never done that before. The live feed is only on until 2 pm, (they keep strange hours) but I was assured they would edit the video, eventually, and it will appear online. This is a student enterprise (CMU) so don't expect to see anything very quickly. I should be able to post it here after it appears. 

This walk took me past the soon-to-be Target, and something that will replace the bus station. This area has been under construction for several years with no apparent change or improvement. Now they've made it almost impossible to walk.

In order to get off the pavement you have to cross that fairly high block of concrete or else walk in the street, a scary business. I was able to haul myself up on the pavement by hanging on to the fence. I was actually afraid I would knock it down. My legs don't want to do this kind of climbing anymore.

There is a new sculpture in Mellon Park. It's pretty nice.

They don't tell you anything about it, who did it, or why it was placed there, but just in case you want to get a concrete slab, there is an informative label.

I also thought the placement of this bench was interesting. It was there before they placed the sculpture, but they could have turned it around. There's nothing very interesting looking the other way.

I'll tell you about the subject of my interview soon. The host started to ask me about my favorite song, or my favorite artist; she wouldn't know who I was talking about if I told her. I stopped her and took over the conversation: serious, but she got into it. More to come. Here she is with her previous guest.


I’m tired of “liberal” being a dirty word


My friend, The Subversive Librarian, has a great post based on another great post at Cuppa with Candace. Both are replies to a typical conservative email making the rounds about being tired of "how terrible it is that conservatives have to pay their fair share in taxes while we lefties undermine the American way of life and Completely Ruin Things For All Future Generations." If you want to know more about the email author, go to one of those other blogs. I don't want to write his name.

Here is Candace's post, with permission:

“I’m 57, and I’m Tired, Too”

By Candace Van Auken

     I’m 57. Until I became disabled in 2001, I worked hard at different jobs, routinely putting in 50 to 70-hour weeks. I did call in sick some days as my inflammatory arthritis worsened, but my employers just patched me through to meetings via telephone — there being no rest for the weary white-collar employee. For years, I made a very good salary, and I didn’t inherit my job or my income. In fact I had to work twice as hard to make 3/4 the salary of the average male employee. Now, given the economy and my disability, I’m probably going to end up living under a bridge, and that thought makes me feel both scared and tired. Very tired.

     I’m tired of being told that I’m a parasite when I spent many years paying taxes and Social Security. (I noticed, one year, that according to a newspaper article, I was paying three times the amount in taxes as a politician who earned twice what I did. Unlike him, I paid my fair share.) I was told by the government that I had worked for my Disability insurance, but according to people lucky enough to have never been seriously ill, I’m a drain on society. I’m tired of being told that conservative congressmen will take the money I paid in, and give it to the most obscenely profitable industry in the world — the oil companies — as “subsidies” necessary for “the creation of new jobs.” (It’s a fact: As oil companies profits have risen, the number of people they employ has decreased, a reality that apparently doesn’t trouble conservatives.)

Photograph of member from the Westboro Baptist Church at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, on the day of Pope Benedict's address to the UN General Assembly. Original photograph by David Shankbone. URL: http://blog.shankbone.org/about/
     I’m tired of being told that Christianity is a “Religion of Love,” when frequently I can read dozens of stories about members of the Westboro Baptist Church calling Catholic priests “vampires” and the daughters of our current president “satanic spawn…of a murderous bastard.” The Supreme Court just upheld the group’s right to stand outside the funerals of military heroes holding signs that say, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The group launched a Web site called “Priests Rape Boys,” and they don’t just save their venom for Roman Catholics. They have claimed that Orthodox Christians are indistinguishable from Catholics, and they also criticize Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Baptists. After a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan China, the group issued a press release thanking God for the number of people who had lost their lives, and in 1996 they protested at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. saying, “Whatever righteous cause the Jewish victims of the 1930s–40s Nazi Holocaust had…has been drowned in sodomite semen.” And in case you haven’t figured it out, yet: They are just as “typical” of Christianity as Al-Qaida is of Islam.

     I’m tired of being told that out of “Tolerance for Free Speech and Freedom of Religion” we must look the other way when conservative politicians encourage the murder of gay people in Uganda or aggressively proselytizing American Christian missionaries offer to rebuild areas of Sri Lanka devastated by a tsunami only if the homeless and destitute residents abandon their faith and convert to Christianity. (And when Sri Lanka’s government complained, the Bush administration threatened to cut off aid and credit to the country.)

     I’m tired of hearing that American workers must lower their standard of living and give up the right to bargain collectively as union members in order to slow the number of jobs being shipped overseas. Ending up with a living standard comparable to Bangladesh has never been part of the “American Dream.”

Prohibition era poster
     I’m tired of being told that that we can “Win the War on Drugs,” when it is obvious that the millions we pour into it are working just as well as Prohibition did in abolishing the sale and consumption of alcohol. And I am tired of being treated like a criminal whenever I go to buy OTC Sudafed at my local drug store. Are middle-aged, chronically ill women with stuffy noses the leading edge of a new crime wave?

     I, too, am tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. I’m tired of people with a bloated sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

     I’m really tired of people who don’t take responsibility for their lives and actions. I’m tired of hearing conservatives blame “big government” or “reverse discrimination,” for all their problems.

     Yes, I’m sick and I’m tired. But I’m also glad to be 57. Because, maybe, I’ll live long enough to see people catch onto the many ways that conservative Republicans pretend to serve US citizens while actually doing the bidding of the large international corporations and interests that fund them. I sure hope so.

Candace Van Auken is a middle-aged woman disabled by autoimmune diseases, who was mightily ticked off by Robert A. Hall’s essay — now going the e-mail rounds — “I’m 63 and I’m tired.”
There is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on! This is your chance to make a difference.

Photo credit:

Copyright © 2011 by Candace L. Van Auken. All rights reserved.

Here are my friend's additions to the list:

  • I'm tired of being told that when corporations with near-perfect information and superior bargaining power join forces to lower wages, eliminate regulations, reduce benefits, and send jobs overseas, that's patriotic, free-market capitalism; but when employees respond by negotiating wages and work conditions collectively through unions, it's Marxism.
  • I'm tired of being told that when a public employee accepts a lower wage than she could earn in the private sector, in exchange for job security and retirement benefits, and then does that job for 30 years even if it sucks, she's a lazy good-for-nothing bureaucrat who has a lot of nerve expecting the state to fulfill its contract.
  • I'm tired of being told that government can't do a single thing right, and that only the private sector will provide quality products and service, by people who have apparently never had to deal with Comcast or AT&T customer service.
  • And I'm tired of hearing the chant of "WHAT PART OF ILLEGAL DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?" to justify splitting up families and denying basic human rights to children.

And me? I'm tired of all the lies, half-truths and stupidities: Obama is not a Muslim, He's certainly not a Socialist (I know, because my Chinese students think I am, and they should know), and all the other nonsense. We have so many important problems to solve. It is tragic that we have to be involved with these slogans, sound bites and obfuscation.

I passed, from fifth to sixth to seventh grade

to eighth grade, then passed into high school, etc. When I die, I will die, I WILL NOT PASS. I don't understand this nonsense about passing. I just heard Joe Klein, who writes for Time, talk about when Richard Holbrooke "passed." Not the first time I've heard this on NPR and not the first time it has annoyed me. Somehow I expect better from them.

Why are we so afraid to say "death," or "died?" Or are we implying that people have passed to another reality? another dimension? Or am I just being obtuse in not understanding we think they passed on to heaven? Or failed, if you went to hell? 

I think language is important. Death is a part of life. Not being able to acknowledge it, distorts our understanding of life. When the time comes I shall die; I shall not pass.

Events of the week

I never intended to make this a weekly blog; just haven't had the inspiration to write very day. I promise I'll try to do better. The best thing this week was an afternoon with Charna. She'll be going off to Chicago to school next weekend. It was wonderful to spend time with her.
We went out for lunch, then a walk in Schenley Park where we found wonderful wooded areas we didn't know existed. When you drive through the park you see acres of rather boring, manicured lawns. I was told there were wooded areas like Frick Park, but had never seen them. We finally found Panther Hollow Valley, and really only explored a bit of it. I was afraid our parking meter would run out if we stayed more than an hour. And I hate to admit it, my legs were beginning to complain.

Not so happy was the arrival of a bill from Comcast for $116 after months of paying only $65 a month with virtually no TV. I've been using their service for phone, internet and TV for about three years. I began with a deal: the three services were $69/month for one year. At the end of that year I renegotiated the contract for just slightly more money.

At the beginning of the week I called them (mistake) about the bill, had a long talk with someone who sold me a service package for $3 something a month and just as I agreed the phone went dead, I couldn't get back to him and I no longer had the internet. When I finally got back to a human after I spent about an hour on hold, she told me I didn't have internet service, only phone and TV. Finally, she got a supervisor and got the internet back for me.

None of these conversations included talk about money, so I was staggered by the bill. This time when I called they told me I had been getting the internet for free, but not to worry, they wouldn't try to collect. You bet, they won't. I sent a detailed email to their corporate offices and got a return call from a peon here in Pittsburgh, but no satisfaction. Verizon here I come.

Raja is having a show of her photographs in Kentucky. The opening is today. If the drive wasn't quite so long, I would have liked to go and surprise her. I'll miss the brownies and Oreo cookies. I spend a lot of time thinking about healthcare.

Robert Reich has a great post about it that I particularly liked because he lays the blame for most of the mess on the insurance companies and big pharma. For a fast recap of what he has to say watch this:


Let your Congressmen and the President know how you feel about making profits from health, or lack of it. Let's make it
Medicare for All.

The ultimate bitch


I found this on a street in NYC, of course. I've been feeling very bitchy–lots to complain about–this expresses it perfectly. My last night in New York really set me up. Renee went to sleep about 10:30, still jet-lagged, and never heard a thing. I got in bed about 11 listening to sirens. New York is always noisy; twenty eight floors up we still hear everything from the street. The sirens and flashing lights continued to such an extent I began to think of 9/11 and finally got out of bed to look. I saw nothing out of the ordinary except for a helicopter hovering overhead, making the flashing light. I tried to turn on the TV, but Verizon has been at work in Renee's apartment and, somehow, I didn't press the secret button combination. Left in the dark, I didn't fall asleep until the copter finally went away, about 1:30.

I'm usually a good sleeper. My last 22 years in Chicago and the subsequent 8 years in New Jersey were spent very near or, in Jersey, next to highways. None of this ever bothered me. It took a helicopter to get me really worked up.

What was it all about? You can read about it here. It involved three police officers, a woman and a pit bull. The helicopter, no doubt, was one of the media outlets. Did they really have to remain there for an hour and a half? There ought to be a law about using those things in heavily populated areas. It was much too close to my building for comfort.

My next post will be about brown water in Pittsburgh. I'm just waiting to see if the water department answers my complaint about that one.

Dear President Obama

What happened to the man I voted for? The man of courage and confidence who entered the election with overwhelming odds against him, and won. What happened to that man who was going to change the world? It looks to me like you have lost the stomach for the fight. By working with what you consider the possible you are giving up the chance to make the world better for all of us.

Thinking it was just an aberration, I didn't write to you when you selected Geithner and Summers. And I didn't know much about finance, although I am certainly learning about it.

I know a lot about healthcare, about fighting with insurance companies, about not being able to get insurance when my husband was made redundant (don't you love that word) at the age of 56. The only real answer to the healthcare mess in this country is to get rid of the insurance companies and institute a medicare-like single payer system.


Does that mean you have chickened out? Or are you now in the pockets of the insurance companies and big pharma?

David Sirota at Salon.com talks about your early support for single payer:

In that speech six years ago, Obama said the only reason single-payer
proponents should tolerate delay is "because first we have to take back
the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take
back the House.

then asks some of these same questions:

So it's back to why — why Obama's insurance-industry-coddling
inconsistency? Is it a pol's payback for campaign cash? Is it an overly
cautious lawmaker's paralysis? Is it a conciliator's desire to appease
powerful interests? Or is it something else?

We need you to fight this battle just as you fought to get elected. If this is an impossible dream, your election was an even more impossible dream. Keep that in mind while you fight and win this one for us. Don't let  us down now.

A kiss

I had not intended to publish this when it appeared on Saturday afternoon. It was a draft and I intend to continue working on it. I was working on the funky computer I traveled with, and I swear it has a life of it's own. The ending has changed. If you read it before, please read it again.

Last night I went to our usual Shabbat dinner at Robin and Steve's. I
enjoy these dinners. It's a way of connecting with the family; finding
out what's been happening all week; just being family together. There
were just the four of us; Charna was home, but Eli is back in Chicago. 
This weekend they had a house guest, a rabbi who had come to visit their
synagogue. He had dinner at the synagogue and arrived at the house just
as we were cleaning up from dinner. When he was introduced to me I put
out my hand to shake his just as he was about to bend down to  kiss me.
He stopped and shook my hand. I didn't think much about the whole thing
until this morning. He had tea and dessert with us; told us about some
of his experiences interviewing at various synagogues and some things
about the place he works.

As I was getting ready to leave the rabbi came over to say goodby
and kissed me; I didn't duck in time. I've been thinking about this ever since. I don't like
being kissed except by family, close friends and people I am intimate
with. At gallery openings I accept that everyone kisses everyone; I
don't like  it, but it doesn't offend me. This kiss bothered me. I thought it was
the sweet old lady, grandmother type of kiss; the same kind of subtle ageism Ronni Bennett
writes about. But Robin told me he tried to kiss her too. She also managed to shake hands. So maybe it wasn't ageism; maybe I'm too sensitive; maybe rabbis from the east coast kiss everyone. I still don't like it. I think it devalues the kiss.

One of those questions

Why is it we can take to the streets to protest what the Chinese are doing in Tibet, but are able to ignore the transgressions of our own government?

We should be protesting the war in Iraq every hour of every day.
We should be protesting the use of torture.
We should be protesting government censorship of protest marches–see Winter Soldier 2008. Why is it no one in mainstream media reported on it.
We should be protesting irresponsible government spending in Iraq.
This government has done more illegal, corrupt, irresponsible things than I can begin to detail. Why arent’ we talking about it–ALL THE TIME.
One more thing: why aren’t we protesting the scandalous amount of money made by health insurance companies.

Thank you, if you’ve read this far. I just had to get it off my chest.