Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Favorite Comic Strips

9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn, by Brooke McEldowney

I'd have to say, "9 Chickweed Lane is my absolute, number 1, best liked comic strip.  Can't get it in the local paper so I follow it online (here)  .  (David Horsey is one click away for here)  Mr McEldowney is a Julliard-educated musician and clearly is drawing/writing this tale with the background of a classical education.  I have, several times, either dived into a dictionary (I still have a big, print BOOK for that purpose!), Google or  some other reference to fully get the meaning of a panel's story, while reading. A character recently said something about "Some people cannot lay down the fardel of honor".  Do YOU know what's been said there? I did not until I'd looked it up.  The strip challanges you, as it entertains you. The strip basically follows the members of a family - Mom's a college professor, daughter is a young ballet dancer in New York City. Mom's mom is now Europe, living with an old flame from WWII.  A host of incredibly HUMAN supporting characters have complex stories all their own.  Like most great cartoonists, he has a few trademark things he's known for.  One example: when he wishes to convey that a couple have consummated their relationship physically, all the reader sees are two pair of hands.  Incredibly erotic and quite innocent, at the same time.

 Mr McEldowney recently showed us the story of "Mom's mom" during WWII and how she met the two important men in her life.  The theme ran for around half a year, and now, has been gathered up into a collection.  The author runs a blog and sells the books there:    "Edie Ernst, USO Singer - Allied Spy".  It's an utterly fantastic tale of love, people and the losses of war. The below is from that story arc:

He also draws a second strip - Pibgorn.  While one attribute of 9 Chickweed Lane is the humanness of the characters, with Pibgorn, the characters are fairies, succubuss, and assorted monsters.  A church organist (who has a relationship with the fairy Pibgorn) is the one human who recurs in this strip.  The dialog follows the same high standard as 9 Chickweed Lane.

The strip is archived on a couple of "tribute sites", going back for a few years.  Alas, the first few years are not available anywhere (at least that I could locate).  Checking in is always a pleasurable few moments every morning.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"It Pays to Plan Ahead" - Prepping and Black Swans

Along with my daily dose of comics, I scan a few "survival" or "prepper" websites and blogs just about every day.  These ran the gamut from simple conservative political/economic discussion to folks who believe that TEOWAWKI (The end of the world as we know it) or SHTF (the last word here is "fan", OK?) is right around the corner.  My feeling on this? There are a number of things that can go really wrong in this incredibly complex and fragile culture that we live in. The "system" is far from bullet-proof.  It all runs on oil, with EVERYTHING receiving input of the energy of petroleum products.  There ARE a number of things that can go wrong.  My brother, Andrew, is a splendid example of how this works, or doesn't work.  He lives in a fairly (about 15 years old) new house, in the woods on the edge of Monson, Massachusetts.  In the last half-year, he and his wife have lived through THREE disasters!  A tornado ripped through the town, damaging his church, destroying the town grocery store and knocking out his power for a day-plus.  Then, Hurricane Irene came calling, flooding and a number of trees down in the area.  Finally, a heavy snow storm. This left his home with out power, or water, for SIX DAYS, as they are on a well.  He does keep jugs of water for drinking and buckets of water for flushing in the garage.  All this in the space of a few months.  One study found that 91% of the population of this country is unprepared for a serious interruption in their food supply of more than a few days. You thought those videos of the Black Friday shopping mobs, fighting over x-boxes were daunting?  What about a similar crowd, only this time they are after food and water for their families.  Or, perhaps,attempting to buy  gasoline to leave town or get money from an ATM or bank that has been exhausted.

I did about two decades of disaster training and volunteer work with the local Red Cross.  I served as a volunteer at the San Francisco Earthquake in 1989 and the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995.  People, as a rule, are conditioned to expect that someone will look after them.

"Survivalists", in my mind, are the harder-core folks, the ones who are digging in in northern Idaho in a fortified homestead.  This group operates on the assumption that a major collapse WILL happen and probably sooner than later.  Some of the urgency diminishes when you realize that a few of these people have been at this since, or before, Y2K.  "Preppers" on the other hand, are those who recognise that "bad things can and will happen" but hold out hope that things won't fall apart anytime soon.  They "plan for the worst and hope for the best" as they add to the stores of supplies.  I put myself in the latter category of folks.  Visitors to the house sometimes ask if  "we are Mormans", after seeing the basement pantry.  We aren't, but neither do we worry about an interruption in supply. Over the decades, I've picked up things like kerosene lanterns and heaters, parts to keep my BMW motorcycles running, medical supplies and equipment, tools, and other supplies.  Many food items have a LONG shelf life. We rotate cans and dry food to the local food bank after a few years.  It's not just "beans, bullets and band-aids", it's also knowledge.  It wasn't a conscious decision but following the twin careers of nursing and BMW motorcycle mechanics has nicely prepared (there's that word again!) me with a set of skills for any number of "problem situations".  With the Red Cross, I learned to research what disasters can happen in what parts of the country.  I don't worry about hurricanes here but fire, floods, tornadoes and hazardous material accidents are on the list for the Colorado Springs area.  What do I think are the most likely problems?  Some sort of economic disruption or a pandemic of some sort top my "worry list".  The hospital I used to work for (see below!) called a meeting to plan for the H1N1 Flu that was expected.  The meeting fell apart when it was realized that the hospital would probably be unable to function because so many of the staff would stay home to either quarantine themselves or to care for their own families.

Most of us can remember that flash of realization that "maybe the adults really AREN'T in charge as well as we thought".  For me, this insight came during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962.  Watching the adults frantically stripping the supermarket shelves of ALL the canned goods really made an impression on me as a 12 year old.  The process of reading and learning history supports the idea of "putting things by" as well. Accounts written by people who lived through the very recent Bosnian conflict backs up the notion of being prepared. This stuff is not fiction, it is very real and has happened a number of times in the recent past to people who were very similar to us. 

In his book of the same title; Nicholas Taleb came up with the very apt term "Black Swans" to label events that has tremendous impact yet they were completely unexpected.  The attacks of September 11th are often cited as a Black Swan event.  Hurricane Katrina should not have been such an event but unfortunately, it was.  A black swan can be as small and personal as a flat tire.  Several years ago, as I and my wife were riding motorcycles to a national rally in Oregon, she came to halt with a nail in her front tire. It was "in the middle of no-where".  A local, passing by in a pickup truck, whipped out his cell phone and called three local bike shops to see who could help.  NONE of them could or would repair this almost-new tire that has a nail in it!  I got out the tire repair kit I always carry, removed the nail and plugged the hole, and hooked up a small 12 volt air pump.  Her tire was repaired, firm and ready to go in under 15 minutes.  What could have been a day-long show stopper became a minor delay because I had planned ahead.  Flat tires are rather rare with the modern tires in use today but they are NOT unknown! 

My life-changing black swan should have been the minor surgery of a gall bladder removal.  I went into it knowing there are such things as "risks of surgery".  What caught me by TOTAL surprise was the behavior of the treating (and my employing) hospital.  After I awoke from the 28 day septic coma the botched operation put me into, it did not occur to me that I would not be cared for by the hospital that damaged my health and supposedly cared for me as an "associate" and "member of the family."  I spent another month relearning how to walk and regain strength from the very-near-death experience.  On the day before I was to stagger home on a walker to finish recovering, my head nurse came to me in tears.  I was being TERMINATED, "because I could no longer do the work"!  Of all the possibilities I had thought of, as I was coming back to life, being fired (and stripped of healthcare coverage) was NOT one of the possibilities!  I had spent too many shifts; listening to the over-head loudspeaker prayers to imagine such an outcome.  I had seen too many posters of the "Seven Penrose Values".  Hell, they'd anointed my hands with Holy Oil during Nurses' Week!  To borrow a quote from the movie Animal House: "You screwed up! You trusted us!"   If my wife and I had followed the "usual American lifestyle" of living at a level of consumption that required two full time jobs to support things, this would have ended with us being homeless.  Fortunately, we had lived well BELOW our means, for many years before this happened.  I had spent my entire adult life preparing for "something bad" to come my way.  This did not get in the way of enjoying life and being able to do a lot of interesting and worthwhile things.  Simple living DOES have its rewards! I certainly had NO idea that "what would get us" would be the actions of a Catholic healthcare corporation! That black swan continues to reverberate in our lives, as I am crippled for life and am now applying for Social Security Disability.  We are old enough that we can start to draw down our IRA savings to make up for no real income, other than my wife's Social Security. We are having to buy our own health insurance - this will end early next year as the COBRA plan runs out.  The money is being spent at a shocking rate.  We don't know what will be available to us at that time.   Again, I started putting money away in these accounts when I was 26 years old. 

I can't promise that "bad stuff will happen" to this society or that "everything will be just fine" for a long time.  It's all about odds and probabilities.  I believe some of the problems associated with "Peak Oil" or "Peak Water" will start showing up in the next few years.  There are more and more people; and fewer easy-to-obtain resources every year. Our society is incredibly complex and dependent on LOTS of energy being applied.  We could remain lucky, this has mostly been the case so far.  I am rather grateful that I prepared for the black swans that I could foresee and the ones that I didn't even imagine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday vs Buy Nothing Day

Draw something!
Sew Something!
Cook Something!
Sing Something!
Build Something!
Make Something!
Ring a bell for the Salvation Army!
Buy Nothing!

Occupy Christmas!

What Would Jesus Buy?

The same folks that originated the Occupy Wall Street movement also started the idea of National Buy Nothing Day. Adbusters, a group dismayed at all the commercialism of Christmas that hit a high point on the Friday after Thanksgiving, came up with the idea of a "holiday FROM shopping". Twenty years ago, they started promoting the notion of "just saying No" to the whole thing. This year, the grotesqueness has grown some more, with a number of stores and malls opening ON Thanksgiving Day, in the evening or at midnight. Will we once again view video clips of herds of obese people, bursting through Wal Mart doors and trampling each other in their dash for the big-screen TV? America! What a country!

A number of cities are seeing their "Occupy" camps moving their focus, for this weekend, to the Buy Nothing Day. In Boise, for example, the large mall will see an invasion of "shopping zombies" between 2 and 3PM on Friday. You might as well have fun while making your point, right? As Emma Goldman put it long ago: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution!"

I don't think Adbusters imagined what the impact would be when someone posted the idea for Occupy Wall Street on the Adbusters' email chat list this last July 17th. One person, sharing an idea! The idea has taken on a life of it's own and doesn't seem to be departing anytime soon. Too many people KNOW that the "one percent" are really out there and that they are running our society into the ground in a constant quest for "more". Do other folks seem to notice that your friendly policeman now resembles a member of Seal Team Six? Perhaps THIS will be the year that Buy Nothing Day actually becomes part of the national consciousness. I have hope. Other than an online purchase of some ball bearings from overseas for my BMW repair activities, I will "buy nothing" today....

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why I ring the bell for the Salvation Army

My spot, at the (West facing) entrance to the Unitah Gardens
King Soopers market.  The shadows illustrate how I am positioned
 to receive the afternoon sun.  I also can count
on seeing a few friends, as I live about a mile away.

                         Why I Ring the Bell for the Salvation Army
A couple of days ago, I just put in the first of four shifts I signed up for with the local Salvation Army.  Why am I out there, for these four-hour blocks of time, when I could be doing something more "fun", and, vertainly more comfortable? I can cite a number of reasons....

They do good work.  The loval Salvation Army operates the local homeless shelter.  The R.J. Montgomery Hope Center offers emergency housing for up to 200 people every night.  They also operate Fresh Start, an apartment-based transitional housing service, where families with children can stay up to two years as they rebuild their lives after homelessness.  The "Soup Run" uses the mobile canteen to provided a hot meal Monday through Friday evenings at a Downtown location.  It serves about 75 folks a night.  Family Services provides aid to individuals and families struggling with un-employment, rent, utility bills, medical needs and the like. They operate a church with the attitude of "Heart to God, Hand to Man".

They do good work very effeciently  No-body is pulling in a large salary as they work providing the above services.  The officers who "run the show", draw astonishingly low wages (sometimes with a provided house to live in).  No-one is "doing well by doing good" here.  I have sat on the Salvation Army Advisory Board for a number of years and see the numbers.  Money dropped in that kettle goes an long, long way to help people in our community.

The good work is increasingly needed  The rough economic times have definitely hit "the 99 percent" in our community quite hard.  The assistance and sheltering services in our community are seeing more and more "middle class/working class" individuals and families who "don't know what to do".  The "chronic homeless", the group our services were built up to serve over the last few years, know "who does what" in our town.  The "new homeless", having recently dropped off the bottom rung of the ladder, have no idea of where to go and who can help.

Ringing the bell REALLY helps.  The Salvation Army does hire people to staff the kettles.  There are also a lot of volunteers.  Service groups like Rotary sign up to help out, year in and year out. A lot of individuals do this too. The Army has found that a volunteer-staffed kettle tends to receive a larger number of dollars than one staffed by a paid person.  This is really "the season" for the Salvation Army to raise funds to support what they do all year.

It's fun!  I look forward to doing my bell ringing.  I always sign up for a specific spot (the Uintah Gardens King Soopers) at a specific time (11am to 3pm - to catch the afternoon sun).  I count on seeing and cating up with friends and acquaintences I haven't seen for a while as I stand by the one entrance to that store.  Of course, when I get corralled by the Kettle Coordinator to sign up, it late November and I have NO idea of how the weather will be on my appointed shifts.  If it is a cold, windy day, it feels slightly better that Basic Training Guard Duty at Fort Lewis, Washington in January!  You just dress for the weather and soldier on.  My shift this time around started cold and then warmed up.  During the cold first hour, a VERY kind lady brought me a cup of hot chocolate from the Starbucks inside.  That mitzvah warmed me on several levels!
It also feels good just to be a small part of such a good effort in our community.  Things like that is why "ringing the bell" is part of MY Christmas season!

It's not too late to help!  You are needed!  You can call the Kettle Coordinator and talk to her about helping out.  Her name is Adrianna Watson and she is at 719-884-1042  or    


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Comics I Like to Follow

I like to start each day by running down a llist of about a dozen comic strips and blogs.  The comics are ones that I cannot get locally, as they are not carried by either the daily or weekly papers.  A couple of days ago, I talked about Horsey, the Op-Ed cartoonist at the Seattle P.I..  There are more.....  I balance Doonesbury, for example, with Mallard Filmore.  Doonesbury I grew up with, almost from Day One; Mallard Fillmore is a right-wing talking duck who is a newspaper reporter.  Both point out very real issues with a stated point of view.  An online comic I JUST ran across - "Day by Day" (it's been around since 2002!) is a great story, featuring "yuppies" (can we still use that term?) who live in New York (I think) and struggle with politics and making a living.  Very well drawn, sharp humor and it requires a real keen awareness of what's going on to fully appreciate.  An example is below:

It as available at:   
The website archives strips back to late 2002 when it began. 

Another, more of a "silly" nature is the "Meaning of Lila".  The day-to-day adventures of a single working woman who has adopted a brilliant young girl with cancer.  Her best friends are all gay, it seems and she spends a LOT of time in Starbucks and bars.  She's kind of a bimbo, but a kind hearted bimbo.  It too is archived back to 2005.  Occasionally there's some political comment mixed in with the humor but it's mostly just well-thought out entertainmant. 

This one's at:  

The last one I'll review today is certainly the wierdest.....Skinhorse
Project Skinhorse is a government-funded agency, set up to look after the results of various "mad scientist" experiements, that resulted in an assortmant of really odd beings.  A STOL aircraft with a human brain implanted to run the controls is one.  A bright talking dog is another.  "Unity" resulted from a zombie experiment.  The "Boss" is a hive of bees that thinks collectively.  The leader of the group is a cross-dressing psychologist. Moustachio the Thinkonium is a steampunkish wind-up clockwork brain.   And on and on.... 
The archives go back a couple of years to the start of the strip.
 From the cartoon's website:


                                                                     "About Skin Horse

Somewhere in this great nation is a top-secret government agency in charge of providing aid to America's nonhuman citizenry. Perpetually overworked and underpaid, these dedicated civil servants soldier on with a dedication exceeded only by their respective passions for heavy rifles, stylish footwear, and good sturdy squeaky toys. They're not our country's best nor our country's brightest, but to all the lost and lonely creations of misguided science wandering the wild places of this country, they are a beacon of minimum-wage hope. This is their story. "

                                    This bit of oddness is at:

There's more but I'll stop here for today!   -Matt

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ever Get a "Fund Lowering Letter"?

Well, HAVE you?  I have, twice, from the same folks - the Bijou Community.  The first such letter arrived in 1981.  The Bijou Community folks, Steve Handen, Mary Lynn Sheetz, Peter Parker, Bill Sultzman, Peter and Mary Sprunger-Froese, Esther Kinsimore, Donna Johnson and others were realizing their dream of opening a "house of hospitality", patterned after the Catholic Worker houses that Dorothy Day and others set up in the poorer parts of large American cities.  Steve and this small group had been running the local Soup Kitchen for almost ten years by this time and were well known as being real "helpful" to those in need.  They also, by then, had gained a reputation for doing very well with what ever was given to them as "charity".  They had not set up as a "501-C3" agency so there was no tax deduction for giving them money, food or a car.  They found a house, very appropriate in size and location, at 411 W. Bijou.  They "did the deal" and needed to come up with a down payment for the house.  The Ithaka Land Trust was created to actually hold title to the House, in perpetuity for the use of the community.  For the first time ever, the Bijou Community sent out a fund raising letter to those they knew or those they thought might be of help.  To their humble surprise, within a VERY short time, they not only received the funds needed to pay the down payment, they received enough to RETIRE THE ENTIRE MORTGAGE!  Hence the "fund lowering letter"..... I, and the rest of their supportive community, received a one page letter; thanking us for the support for the Bijou House and suggesting that now, "You could direct your generosity to the many other worthy agencies in town that help those in need".  Ever get something like THAT from any "charity" in town?

About 5 years later, in 1985, the Bijou folks needed to relocate the Soup Kitchen from First Baptist Church to St Mary's Marian House facility.  The Marian House, across Bijou from St Mary's Cathedral, housed a part-time senior's program, had been used as a temporary emergency shelter for a couple of Winters when the old County Poor Farm was full and not much else.  The Bijou folks figured they needed about $50,000 to upgrade the house kitchen and fit the place out as a soup kitchen.  So, the second "asking letter" went out from the Bijou Community.  Almost immediately, they had the money needed and sent out their SECOND "fund lowering letter".  Before they could "shut off the flow", they had acquired enough "extra funds" that were put to the community's use by purchasing the vacant lot next to the Bijou House.  They wanted to own this lot for a few reasons.  They preferred that that land NOT become a 7-11 type of commercial enterprise, right next to the Bijou House.  They thought the land might be needed at some future time to expand the Bijou House's mission into.  In the meantime, they cleared out the vacant lot and put in a very nice "vest-pocket" park, with plantings, benches and a basket-ball court.

The Bijou Community folks eventually stopped running a House of Hospitality.  The group is getting older, there just weren't enough people or energy to keep going the intensive supervision, that the Bijou House required.  The House remains in that hands of Ithaka and is now used as far-less supervised housing for poor and disabled people.  I helped out there for at least ten years as a "relief over-night supervisor".  I was also sort of the "house nurse" there and would come over in answer to calls like "Does he need to go the E.R."  It was a wonderful effort to be part of.  The Soup Kitchen is now in the ownership of Catholic Charities, having been given over in 1995 for pretty much the same reasons as the Bijou House - they were just too tired to keep up the day-to-day heavy lifting that running the Soup Kitchen entailed.  I helped out there too, sharing the Sunday brunch meal supervision duties, every Sunday with Bill Sultzman.  I also supervised the Clinic attached to the Soup Kitchen.  Started soon after the move there, in 1986, I and a small group of volunteers staffed it Monday through Friday, even on the holidays.  It is now operated by the SET agency.

It WAS nice to receive those "fund-lowering letters" however. Wonder if I'll ever see another one....

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My favorite editorial cartoonist, Dave Horsey

One of David Horsey's latest

For many years now, I've been a follower of David Horsey, the editorial cartoonist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  The PI is now "all online" so you have to visit their website to see his efforts.

He's a bit Left-of-Center and expresses his views quite elegantly.  Given the events of the present and recent past, he won't run short of material any time soon!  He occasionally posts a thoughtful essay as well as the visual stuff.  He's part of my morning routine of running through about a dozen URLs of comics and cartoons our Gazette does not see fit (or can't afford)  to print in our daily paper.