Sunday, December 28, 2014

From the Mouths of Old Ladies

Ursula Le Guin took a verbal stick to publishers  who pay hack writers to create fear and, through fear, create profits; even though these actions damage the shared interests of freedom and community. The occasion was Ursula's acceptance speech before the recent National Book Awards.

There is a direct connection to North Texas.  Brainfart journalism is rife here in North Texas. The Dallas Business Journal, a subscriber supported  news organization, might be more aptly named, the Dallas Brainfart Journal; while some of the best reporting around is produced by way of Jim Schutze and Eric Nicholson, who write for the "free"  Dallas Observer.  The free paper has hard hitting and well researched newsy news and the DBJ is empty news with a pinch of  boosterism and a dash of just plain puffery.

Ursula Le Guin has been a successful author for decades. You can always check her out on the wiki.  [it is always the right  time to support wikipedia ]

In a remarkable speech before the National Book, she assailed the forces which use words to create fear and fear to create attention to make money.  Here is a  choice quote.
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope...

Here is another interesting bit
Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

The Parker Higgins blog  has the complete transcript. Ypu will enjoy it. We must support the art of writing to maintain it, and be aware when we are indulging in the world of click bait and pandering and fear mongering for a buck; we are nurturing the dark and seamy side of publishing.

What  do ou think?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Some Stray Thoughts about a Merry Christmas this year

Today, the day before Christmas, right here in North Texas- there is a mom struggling to create a happy Christmas for kids while totally stressed out. Maybe she is struggling with bills. Maybe approaching problems with the house or apartment.

Maybe she is just worn out from the struggle. Too many jobs that don't pay enough or not enough steady work to get ahead. Maybe she has bald tires on her car, maybe the car doesn't really run very well, but she cannot afford to have it looked at... yet, she must trust it- she has to get to work to pay the bills...

What a wonder Christmas Tree!
And there are dads under stress too. I am prosaic- a nerd- not very imaginative, but I know there are countless ways to go aground in our present day, and no one really wants to count them or account for them.

There are other people in pain- chronic backaches but with no medical insurance to help make a difference. Eye problems, ear problems, problems with teeth- that would be easily solved if there were more funds, if they were paid a higher wage, if they could afford to sign up for Obamacare-

Thanks to all the generous people in North Texas, kids are getting new bikes and toys this Christmas that they would not have otherwise received, but there are great mounds of hidden pain, hidden issues, and parents will continue to struggle on into the new year.

Now, I lack the imagination to truly understand people's predicaments- I made these up, but they are there and people are hurting and most of us are just a little too insular from the issues that people live with everyday. We are busy, we really do not have powerful individual tools to deal with these issues, and it is painful to imagine. Like thinking about abandoned and hungry cats and dogs.

We do have the tools through our elected representatives to solve these issues, but we are distracted by many lesser issues, or maybe we just do not understand the tools we do share together as citizens of the United States.

If I could give all of ua a gift right now for Christmas, it would be better eyes and ears to see and hear the people around us- to help us reach beyond the stereotypes and the caricatures- down to real people with real worries- real dreams and real stresses. We could all do each other a lot of good if we saw and understood things better.

And I would give all of us a better perspective to sort out what is important and what is trumped up as urgent by media or self serving politicians. We miss so many important things hidden in the background of this moment's manufactured hysteria magnified by cable news.

I would also give everyone more time. More time to think things through rather than react so quickly to events.

And I would give everyone a passion that gets them excited every day, and an opportunity on which to focus their talents and energy. And this effort would provide a living wage and more: enough to save for the future, enough for free time to relax and think and dream.

More time. Less stress. Fewer fears. Bigger opportunities. More laughs.

I wish I could give these away because we are all in this life experience together, our lives impact others, our actions either add to or extract from the common good. Happy and engaged people make other people happy and add more energy on the side of light and less on the side of darkness.

Have a great Merry Christmas.

tree and image  by YE OLD SANDWICH SHOPPE

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Each of us Needs to Feel a Responsibility to Veterans

Texas Veterans need our support. When the nation rushes off to war, whether we have thought through the reasons why are not; most of us just go on with our lives as usual, insulated from the results of our nations acts. But the service men and women go and do their duty and some give their lives, and the rest come back changed for the experience.

Way too many veterans come home and die. They commit suicide, they die of drug overdoses, they die in car accidents... Veterans are smart. They can be creative in their choices of paths to self destruction. We cannot keep track of how many, but we know they have issues and we know they need help. The American Statesman did a great series on Texas veterans. You can look at their extensive series here.

Veterans coming home need mental health support that reaches out to where they are, and offers them a lifeline- a return path to making the adjustments necessary to get back on keel- get into a frame of mind where they can not only survive, but thrive. We, as a nation, owe them this effort. They did their duty. We sent them as a nation. We elected the president and the politicians that carried on two wars over the last decades.

It takes more than veterans watching out for each other- more than veteran's families watching out for each other. It take you and me. We have to hold politicians responsible. Image swiped from e-hydrate a sponsor of IAVA.

The Clay Hunt SAV Act bipartisan bill passed the house last week. Yesterday, senators were asked to pass the bill unanimously. The senate was out of time for the session and so a call was made for a bipartisan unanimous vote.

Senator Coburn of OKlahoma single handedly put a hold on the legislation. Mr. Coburn said he knew the funding was not needed, money was already funded, and the new appropriation was a waste.

Mr. Coburn is wrong. Mr. Coburn is being myopic. He fixates on what are his peeves and misses the big picture. We are losing 22 to 23 veterans a day from suicide. These numbers do not even count those veterans who end their lives with booze, with drug overdoses, or have a wreck, or by some other violent means. There is no accounting of the problems created with family and children caught up in such stressful situations. We do not need a bean counter counting money when what really counts- the lives of veterans, the needs of their families are pushed aside by penny pinching.

Here is a very simple concept. If we can run up deficits to fund over a trillion dollars for wars, we can fund the few billion needed to support the men and women we put in harm's way. 

Coburn is a detail man, watches the pennies very closely. He has been studying the issue of social security disability claims for several years. He was on 60 minutes in 2013 claiming of fraud in the system that was wasting money and letting sharpy lawyers push through hinky claims for people who were not really injured. Others have clearly stated that Mr. Coburn's attitudes colored his conclusions about the social security disability issues. Here is another case where Mr. Coburn fixates on the facts he wants and makes judgements that can be harmful to people in need.

Is there fraud in the social security disability program? Yes, about 1% of claims. More infor later,  but we must have perspective. Are we going to help people overcome injury, help support families and children of injured parents with compassion or are we going to be distracted by fraud and starve people and drive them to desperation to make sure no money is being wasted?

The Wall Street Journal stated in April 2013 that the claim that federal disability benefits were to blame for people leaving the labor force was exaggerated and, in fact, were the least common reason individuals left the workforce. The Government Accountability Office has repeatedly found that fraud accounts for approximately one percent of all disability payments. Fraud exists. You cannot harm the ninety-nine per cent while trying to ferret out the 1 per cent.

Back to the issue of veterans. Coburn obviously sees the potential for abuse of the new system rather than having an ability to focus on the needs of the veteran.

Coburn sees the critical issue as money being wasted.  We need a little more perspective of how we spend gov'ment money. We have plenty to go to war. At any time. We have the money to prepare for war in space, to track citizens phone calls and emails, to upgrade and enhance the nuclear bomb delivery systems, but when it comes to support for our veterans- parse out pennies and watch every one?

We should have no problem at all providing support for American vets. The veterans need us to watch out for them. Politicians have bat ears when it comes to the interests of wall street bankers, big ag or big pharma. All those campaign contributions win rabid attention to the critical needs of lobbyists even when those interests are not necessarily in the interest of Americans.

Veterans don't have millions of dollars to ply Congress for favors. We have their back. We are not doing a very good job paying attention to our role in waging war.

I will give the final word to the IAVA - the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
While we appreciate the many Senators who have stood up to support our bill and our nation's veterans, we join them in expressing our dismay that Senator Coburn would block this bill. We appreciate the the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for bringing the bill to the floor for a vote. IAVA also thanks the Senate sponsors of the bill, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), as well as all those who signed on to support the measure. A total of 21 co-sponsors -- 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats -- supported the Clay Hunt SAV Act.

Let's make sure Congress knows that this fight is not over because the suicide crisis is not over. We will be back with reinforcements when the next Congress arrives. In the meantime, please click here [ed. their link was broken- too bad- here is a link to their FB page]  to send a message to Senator Coburn.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Do city regulations on solar panel installations harm citizens and hamper the free market?

It is hard to draw the line between where public opinion and interests start dictating to homeowners on their own home property.

There has to be public input for city dwellers as to how homeowners use their property. No roosters- no pig pens- no outhouse in the front yard.. BUT where do we draw that line on other more ambiguous issues?

but we do need a boundary where the neighbors would like some say... so how do we solve such a problem...

With a public hearing.

This might not be an accurate representation of the planning and zoning commission at work.
So we have a great local example playing out right now in North Richland Hills. North Richland Hills has had a recent jump in the number of permits for solar installations, and so the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended and the NRH city council chimed in that solar installations on street-facing slopes of a resident’s roof should require a special use permit (SUP). Also, ground-mounted systems more than 500 square feet would also require a SUP.

Julie Thibodeaux in the Greensource DFW website has a great article on the subject. Don’t miss it. Solar advocates say North Richland Hills rule could put a damper on sun-powered technology. City officials worry about esthetics and the crazy homeowner who will hash up the neighborhood.

There has been an outcry. Solar advocates have strong opinions. Maybe you too. The next public meeting on this issue in North Richland Hills is on December 8th at 7:00- show up at 6:00 to sign up if you want to address the meeting. The meeting is at city hall in North Richland Hills. 7301 NE Loop 820. This is a great opportunity to see local politics and democracy work.

The Planning and Zoning commission has tried to remove aggravation and friction from their proposed changes. The want to lower the fees for the SUP from $576 to $50 as well as an expedited application process  that would create a 30-day turnaround. That seems like a no brainer.

Solar panels are expensive but you get to amortize their costs over time. A $576 fee to figure out if you get to have solar panels...  not acceptable. So we will just see how the great minds in political power manage to create a win-win here.

That being  said... solar panels are not a great energy investment. 95% of homes can save much more by investing in energy efficiency up front.

Solar panels are the sexy pair of shoes in green. Not that practical; but, oh quite trendy. But that is a story for another day.

But back to our discussion of where to draw boundaries between the public interest and the individual homeowner. 

Do you think home owners should be able to put solar panels on their home willy nilly- or do you think there should be an overseeing body to make sure one homeowner does not go berzerk.

I don't want to wake up and see this going up on the neighbor's lawn.
Is it possible for a homeowner to create a visual eyesore with solar voltaic devices? What if their roofing faces east and west, and their only solar exposure would have to be put on poles in the front yard right off the street?

I wouldn't much care for that... it is not economically a good idea, but economic investments are in the eye of the beholder. I would really like to see green lawns disappear and have wild flowers and wild spaces flourish in yards. I would have yards become oases for wild birds instead of sterile green monoliths devoid of vibrancy and diversity. But that is again in the eye of the beholder.

Anybody else hate green lawns?

And what about a nice garden patch with fruiting bushes and semi dwarf trees in the front yard? Yes! creating a fruitful and verdant landscape is a big improvement. But how will the neighbors feel?

And so where do we draw that line

Where do we draw the boundary between individual homeowners and the public interest? We better allow stuff that might annoy us a bit if we want the stuff that will make us happy...

And so we settle these issues in public debate and finding allies for the cause and making a big enough fuss to influence people who  are elected by the people. A bit cumbersome, but I cannot think of anything which works better.

Who has something to add?