Thoughts on writing with very little time

Over the weekend, I read a post on a writers’ blog on how to get the most out of your writing time — very interesting, but it involved meditation and other items that implied the writer has relatively abundant writing time, despite her claims of having very little.

Even when I could scrounge up an hour-and-a-half of writing time, I certainly wasn’t using it for meditating or anything other than putting words on paper. I loosen up my mind for writing (which seemed to be the point of this author’s meditation exercises) with writing exercises & journaling.

I’m sure this author has an excellent process for getting the most out of her writing time, but I do wish she hadn’t said she had limited writing time, because it sounded like she had entire mornings just to write. I wish I could block out my entire morning for writing, but I am lucky to get a half hour. Those of us with truly limited writing time would appreciate some writing advice that actually pertains to us. If you have any, feel free to share in the comments.

Some Republicans Calling for a Government Shutdown

Some Republicans are so upset over the President’s immigration announcments on Thursday that they are suggesting that they are willing to shut down the U.S. government over this dispute. This despite the fact they agree that what the President has announced is perfectly legal.

I’d love to start a discussion about immigration, but that’s not my point right now. My point is that some Republicans are so upset over the President’s legal (and in my opinion, ethical) decisions that they would rather shut down the government than deal with it or actually fix our immigration system.

THEY WANT TO SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT!!!

This is just playing with the lives of all Americans, especially those who are employed by the government, or funded by a government agency. By the time we start talking about the impact on communities located near important, busy national parks, and all the government services that become unavailable, this is a major impact on ordinary people’s lives.

See, here’s the thing. If your livelihood depends in any way on the U.S. government, and the government shuts down, then you stop getting paid.* Indefinitely and without much warning. Somewhat like being laid off or fired. Except it’s worse than that, because if you’re laid off or fired, you can go look for another job. If the government shuts down, your job is still there, you just can’t work at it. So if you like your job, or the city you live in, and you start job hunting, then you face the possibility that you may be (and probably are) walking away from a job you like, maybe even love, that will be there again soon, and you may not find one that pays as well or you like as much. So you’re pretty much stuck with some unpalatable choices. Most people choose to wait it out. But that’s a drain on savings and stressful.

Given all that, Republicans threatening to shut down the government are, in my opinion, pushing the nuclear option. They can’t be bothered with negotiation, or finding another solution, or anything that actually requires work. Instead, they are like a little kid who doesn’t like the way the other kids are playing with the blocks. “I don’t like you or what you’re doing, so I’m going to take all the blocks and no one can play with them!” This is not acceptable in preschool, and it shouldn’t be acceptable to adults.

Movie Review: The Box Trolls

The Box Trolls is a sweet movie about little gremlins who live in tunnels underneath a town. Falsely maligned as baby snatchers by the town villain, they struggle to survive as the villain steals them away and the townspeople hate them. In the end, the (not stolen) orphan they adopted saves the day in a heartwarming ending.

I really liked this movie except for two things that make me never want to see it again. One, the villain is a cross-dresser and is portrayed in such a way as to make all cross-dressers and transgender people seem evil. Strike one for homophobia, strike two for stereotypes and cliches.

Two, the ending is absolutely disgusting and ruins the whole rest of the movie. Spoiler alert: the villain explodes, literally. Not shown on screen, but still stomach-turning. Strike three for something truly nasty and disgusting.

The movie is really clever in the way it incorporates our society’s current anxieties and concerns, including food allergies, gourmet food & foodies, child-rearing, homophobia, and more. It’s a real shame that homophobia and prejudice against people who differ from gender norms couldn’t have been addressed in the sweet and inclusive way that the rest of the movie exhibits.

And the ending just goes to show that some ideas really, really shouldn’t be taken to their logical conclusion. Sometimes, it’s better just to leave some things to the imagination, or end the movie in a different way.

Two stars. (It would be one star, but the rest of the movie {everything but the homophobia and the disgusting ending} is so sweet, it redeems one star)

Dear Congress: Have you forgotten us?

The real people who work for the government, and for government contractors? The real people who receive Social Security? The real people who put their money in banks?

We’re not just numbers on a page, we are real people living real lives. Do you even realize that there are actual people behind the numbers — when you stop paying people, there are real consequences to real people’s lives? Or is it all just a game to you — have you become so far removed from reality that it’s just a power struggle and numbers on a page?

There are real people wondering how they will pay for food, for Christmas presents, wondering if their money in the bank is safe if the US government defaults on its bonds, wondering how long they can go without regular income coming in. You talk about the destruction of the middle class when jobs were sent overseas — well, we are the last of the middle class, and you, Congress, are destroying us!

Box Tops For Education: A Sneaky Ploy to Sell More Expensive Food

I’ve always seen those box tops on packaged food — you know, the special little dashed line boxes that say ‘Cut here and give to your school for money’. You’re supposed to cut it out and give it to your nearest school and then the school earns money from the manufacturer for things at school. And I always felt all warm and fuzzy inside, knowing that the manufacturer cared about kids.

No. That’s not how it works. I no longer feel warm and fuzzy about box tops. In fact, I feel very, very angry. Because it turns out that the kids are made to hold contests to see who can bring in the most box tops and they get prizes, like candy, when they bring in completed sheets of paper filled with box tops. Each sheet has 20 spots for box tops on it. That is an incredible amount of prepared food.

So the kids are saying things like ‘Mommy, buy more of [food we don’t buy] so I can get a prize!’ And of course parents want to make their kids happy, but not by buying food they don’t need or want, because they buy generic brands to save money and cook from scratch to be healthy. It’s all a ploy to get families to buy food they wouldn’t otherwise buy, under the guise of helping kids. It’s disgusting, really.

If you are one of the families that can actually afford to buy name brand foods on a regular basis and/or you live somewhere where the healthy foods on the list are actually sold (which is not the case in my area, for example, we can’t get Green Giant brand fresh produce here) and these box tops don’t cause you angst and anxiety, then I apologize if I have offended you with this rant.

Mad at Macy’s

A couple weeks ago, I opened my newspaper and a wave of scent came out. I suppose some people like this, or advertisers wouldn’t tuck scent cards in their advertisements. But for me, with sensitivities and allergies to strong scents and chemicals, it was awful. I immediately started sneezing and felt sick to my stomach.

I found 2 scent cards and threw them in the trash. I called the newspaper, and was connected to the advertising section, where I learned that the paper has no control over these scent cards, even if they are making their subscribers (their customers) sick because their other customers (the advertisers) supply these cards automatically in their ads.

I did learn that the cards had been in the Macy’s ad, and that the woman I spoke to in the advertisements department would work with the printing department to affix the cards better in the ads in the future, so they wouldn’t fall out and scent the entire newspaper. This made me feel a little better — the newspaper is at least doing their best, I feel, to mitigate the issues caused by their advertisers.

All was well, or so I thought until later in the evening when I began sneezing repeatedly, and developed a headache. What could be causing it? All the scent cards were safely in the covered kitchen trash, right? Nope. I could still smell one, and after searching, one more was found and tossed. But it was too late. I had allergy symptoms for two more days.

All in all, I find myself extremely annoyed with Macy’s. Why should I want to shop at a store that makes me feel miserable with their advertisements?

The Glass Ceiling Still Exists

There was an article in yesterday’s Post Register about the glass ceiling in the governor’s Cabinet in Idaho. According to an investigation by the Idaho Statesman, women in the Cabinet make $17,500 less than men, when comparing median salaries.

The article quoted many people in the Cabinet and Idaho’s state employees on the reason for this gap, with all agreeing that it was not based on gender, but on the clout of the departments, the size of the departments, and other factors not related to the gender of the department heads.

I would tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, since I am not a member of Idaho’s Cabinet nor an employee of the state of Idaho, but I think it is very suspicious that in the case of two departments cited in the article, Agriculture and Commerce, the one run by a man (Commerce) is a smaller department with fewer employees (53) and yet he makes $38,000 more than the woman who runs the Agriculture department with 259 employees. And she has been in her position since 2007, and he only began his time in his position in October of last year.

I thought the most telling quotation, however, came at the very end of the article, from Tana Cory, head of the Division of Human Resources and the second-lowest paid person in the Cabinet.

“As a dedicated-fund agency, any increases would be passed on to our licensees, and I am sensitive to that in our current economy,” Cory said. “Additionally, my focus is not on my own salary but on the salaries of those who work for the bureau. So, when we have an increase in (pay), I prefer to pass on as much as possible to the employees.”

So her concern for her clients is overriding both her boss and her best interests.

Whatever the reason, I think that this pay discrepancy between the men and women in Idaho’s Cabinet is unacceptable.

You can read the entire article here (pay subscription link) or here (AP link, I think it is free).

Don’t Read This While You Eat

You expect the hospital to be a safe, clean place. You expect that when you go to the hospital for surgery, the instruments and tools used on you will be sterilized and clean. You will have your surgery, recover, go home, and feel better than you did before. Usually, this is what happens.

But not always. Sometimes, and more often than we really want to know, the instruments are imperfectly cleaned. Bits of blood and tissue are left behind, clogging the complex tools and harboring infection. Read more about this problem (warning: the link has graphic descriptions and photos, do not click if you do not want to see these graphic descriptions) from iWatch News from the Center for Public Integrity.

The FDA has investigated these problems, and are creating a draft policy for device manufacturers that will in no way be binding upon the manufacturers. This is unacceptable. People deserve to be safe in hospitals, not get sicker.

Newspaper Column: Smart Meters and Wiretapping

Older US residential electric meter location, ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Central Committee of the Bonneville Republican Party has lately become concerned with, and passed a resolution against, smart meter installation by Idaho Falls Power. Their concerns have been dismissed both by this newspaper and by Jackie Flowers, head of Idaho Falls Power.

I believe that their concerns about privacy and wiretapping are not overblown. It is possible to tell what someone is doing in their house, even down to which television show they are watching (according to a study by the Münster University of Applied Sciences http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-tv or http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-german for the original German), with smart meters.

I do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is deliberately installing smart meters in people’s homes to spy on them. However, I also do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is doing enough to reassure customers that the smart meter data will not be misused.

When I spoke to an Idaho Falls Power employee, Mark Reed, in 2009, about smart meters, he was quite reassuring that the utility would never misuse the data from the smart meters. However, one aspect that we did not discuss, because I had not thought about it enough, was that the smart meter data is radio-transmitted and can theoretically be read by anyone with a receiver to receive that frequency. I have since learned that smart meters usually have little or no security for their data transmissions, so it’s easy for others to obtain.

Many people dismiss concerns about smart meter privacy by saying there is no conspiracy among utilities and city government or police to find out what citizens are doing in their homes. I would agree, but without proper security for the radio transmissions, anyone with the proper (easily obtainable) equipment can read them. Do you want your neighbor to know which TV shows you watch? I start seedlings for my garden with a heat mat – what if a busybody concluded the spike in my electrical consumption combined with purchases of potting soil meant I was growing marijuana?

Smart meters are probably the wave of the future, but we do not have to blindly accept them without safeguards. Why is Idaho Falls Power so secretive about the security levels of the smart meters? Until they can clearly explain why my personal data is not at risk with a smart meter, I for one don’t want a smart meter.

This column originally appeared in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on December 14, 2011.

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Since I wrote this column, it has come to my attention that some people have serious concerns about the health risks of smart meters. In California, they have organized a group called Stop Smart Meters. Here is an article about them in the San Francisco Chronicle: PG&E SmartMeter draws customer rebellion.

 

Why are Occupy Movements Protesting the Ports?

Port of Oakland

Image via Wikipedia

I thought, when I first heard that Occupy Oakland was going to shut down the Port of Oakland, that it was just another example of the Occupy movement trying to affect corporate America. Well, it turns out there’s a bit more to the story than that.

As explained in this excellent AlterNet article, and an open letter from drivers for the Port of Oakland, ever since the deregulation of the port trucking business (drayage) in 1979, the port truckers have been in a downward spiral. To avoid paying payroll taxes, or any other of the normal costs associated with a trucking business (such as emissions testing and compliance for the trucks), the trucking companies either sold the trucks to the drivers, or leases them to the drivers at exorbitant rates, and classified the drivers as independent contractors, not employees. To date, the trucking companies have gotten away with this blatant misclassification of employees as contractors.

Resources

Read the open letter of some drivers from the Port of Oakland
How Goldman Sachs and Other Companies Exploit Port Truck Drivers — Occupy Protesters Plan to Shut Down West Coast Ports in Protest (AlterNet)

Petition to Support the Truck Drivers

I first read about the plight of the truck drivers in this article by Reverend John Helmiere, a United Methodist minister, on his beating and arrest by Seattle police while participating in the blockade of the Port of Seattle by Occupy Seattle.

Finally, if you live near the coasts, you probably are aware of your nearest port and perhaps have heard about the conditions there. If you live in the interior of the U.S., don’t be complacent that these issues don’t affect you. First, almost all goods sold in this country (unless made in the USA, and even then components probably come from overseas) come through a port on their way to a store. So you are benefiting, in the form of lower prices, in almost every aspect of your daily life. Secondly, are you so sure there isn’t a port near you? I live almost 800 miles from the nearest coast, and yet the nearest port is only 580 or so miles (about one day’s drive) away. That’s practically in my neighborhood. Are these evil practices of these trucking companies affecting your neighbors?

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