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Saturday, January 3, 2009

So, about this 2009 business...

Happy New Year and all that jazz. I think my only real resolution this year is to make myself happy and so far, that's been an interesting concept.

The real thing I'm thinking about is what happens in July. In July, my "contract" is up and I'll be done with Americorps. And so it'll be on to something new. Something new just might be grad school. I've been saying it's plan B, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if I should just make it plan A and have done with it. There's a couple of reasons why that might be good:

1. The economy sucks and going to school would let everything calm down by the time I was ready to go job hunting for reals. I've done the job hunting in a recession/bad economy before. It has never worked out well for me; I keep winding back up in retail and I don't want that.

2. I have this feeling if I don't do it now, it won't happen. Which may be silly and may not be.

3. It feels right. More right than my tentative job searching has felt.

Of course, there's reasons why it might be bad:

1. Am I just wanting to do it so I don't have to go job hunting full force?

2. There's the question of the money, although even working part time would probably make me more money that I make now.

3. It would probably be adding more to my student loans (although, really, at this point, that really doesn't matter. I'll be paying them off until I'm 50 anyhow).

I don't know. I really don't. But I think I might regret not trying to go for it, to do it. But do I want it for the right reasons, is what I want to know. Or does it really matter what the right reasons are?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice

Oh how do you do, young Willy McBride
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside
And rest for a while in the warm summer sun
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done
And I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the great fallen in 1916
Well I hope you died quick
And I hope you died clean
Or Willy McBride, was is it slow and obscene?

Did they beat the drums slowly?
Did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play the last post and chorus?
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And though you died back in 1916
To that loyal heart you're forever nineteen
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Forever enshrined behind some old glass pane?
In an old photograph torn, tattered, and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame

The sun shining down on these green fields of France
The warm wind blows gently and the red poppies dance
The trenches have vanished long under the plow
No gas, no barbed wire, no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard that's still no man's land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation were butchered and damned

And I can't help but wonder oh Willy McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause?
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh Willy McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again

"No Man's Land (Green Fields of France)" written by Eric Bogle, as performed by the Dropkick Murphys

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008



This year for Blog Action Day, the topic is Poverty, which is something I'm both familiar and unfamiliar with in different ways.

I am a VISTA (which stands for Volunteers In Service To America), which is a program that was started in the 1960s to eradicate poverty in the US. Obviously, we haven't achieved that goal yet, but every year thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds participate in this 1 year volunteer program. We are assigned to a program site that is generally a nonprofit organization that has a social service mission. VISTAs work all over the country, in both rural and urban areas. We do receive a living allowance (mine works out to be about $750 a month, but the actual amount varies depending on where you are) and some health care coverage, but part of the idea is that you live in poverty while fighting poverty.

My VISTA situation isn't maybe what people would think when they think about eradicating poverty. I work for an affordable housing organization in a fairly affluent small town. The clients I work are considered to have low to moderate incomes, but they are not destitute (small irony- most of them make roughly three times as much money a year than I do). Some people might look at this and shake their heads, thinking that there are so many worse situations to be in than a renter in an affluent small town. This is true. But poverty isn't just how much money you make.

There is a certain poverty to a town that does not have a range of affordable housing. Many of the people who work in our town, especially people who work for some of the larger employers, like the local nursing facility, cannot afford to live in our town. They live in nearby cities where housing is more affordable. But with rising gas and food prices, they are squeezed even more than they were before. If they lived in town, they would have a considerably shorter commute- almost nothing in town is more than two miles from anything else. Most of them could probably walk or bike to work if they lived in town, which would save them a not inconsiderable amount of money a month. And with even that little bit of savings, there's no telling what they could do. Get out of debt. Further their educations. Help their children with their educations. Save for retirement. People can do amazing things, given the opportunity. And affordable housing is one of those things that can give people opportunities. But when there is no affordable housing, everyone loses. Employers lose because their employees have more obstacles in getting to work. The community loses because the lack of affordable housing means young families have a harder time living in our town, and when you have a town with no young families, you have a town without a future. We all lose when there is no diversity, either racially, socially or economically. The environment loses when people have to commute so far to work. This poverty really does affect us all.

That is the poverty I am working to eradicate. The poverty that leads to communities that can't sustain themselves. It's maybe not as visibly necessary as working to feed the hungry and house the homeless, but it's still vital to our communities and our world. Poverty touches us all in more ways than we realize, and it's these "silent" ways that may really be the larger problem facing our country today.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Random Things I am Thinking About

1. I read this post at Get Rich Slowly this morning about once a month grocery shopping. The comments are making me screw my face up and wonder where these people are coming from. Half the posters are up in arms about not having fresh fruit and veggies if you only go to the grocery once a month because produce won't last that long. I'm wondering what *they're* buying, because the produce I buy can usually easily last 4 weeks. Apples and oranges don't go bad near that fast if they're in the fridge. I mean, yeah, bananas aren't going to make it a month. But you can certainly have fresh fruit for a month. Maybe not veggies (although bell peppers seem to hold up fine for 3+ weeks), but that is why God invented frozen foods. Yes, yes, they may be slightly less nutritious than fresh, but they're still good for you. And cheaper too (I really want to know where the poster who said frozen veggies were more expensive than fresh is shopping, because it's certainly not my grocery). Everyone keeps saying that if you shop once a month you must be eating a lot of processed foods, but I don't really eat that much processed food. I don't do boxed meals. Or frozen meals, either, for that matter. I do eat a lot of cereal, but Grape Nuts and Wheaties are not exactly the most processed cereals in the world.

I dunno. I have no shame about my shopping strategies. I go once a month for most of the non perishables and any perishables that will last that long, which is most of them. I go maybe every other week for more fruit and sometimes more milk, but that's usually because I've eaten all of it more than it's gone bad.

2. I'm having a hard time with this Issue 6 thing. I don't think gambling is intrinsically wrong, and I have no problem with having a resort casino in Ohio. And God knows the area of the state where they're putting this thing could use some jobs that won't get outsourced. But I keep hearing things about loopholes that won't benefit the state and I'm a bit wary. So, not sure what to do on that one yet.

3. Today was completely beautiful. It feels a little early for the trees to be changing colors but I guess it's really not, is it? Lots of migrating birds, though. It's LOUD out there all day.

4. My downstairs neighbor makes interesting smelling food. I can't decide if tonight's offering smells good or not, though. Last night clearly involved a LOT of garlic, so I guess I can rest assured that he's not a vampire or anything.

5. I solved a problem we were having at work with storing floor plans for houses. I felt all smart-like. Until I sat down and read my email and had to start figuring out warranty issues and closings again. I will be very glad when everyone's house is fixed, or closed upon or otherwise resolved.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Well, that was interesting

My previous post has garnered a tad bit of attention from someone or other. I let it go, because I was curious to see what happened (I'm not going to debate people in the comments. It's a losing battle. So long as they keep a civil tongue in their head, commenters can disagree with me all they like). I hadn't known there was political spam comments. Interesting.

I closed comments on that post because I had a feeling if I let it go it would just go on and on and on and eh. The point has been made.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

PSA for my Ohioans- Payday Lending Bill

I know some of you have heard this rant before and all, but it's important. And important to understand what's really going on, because there is a LOT of misinformation going on with this bill.

There is now a law in Ohio that says that payday lenders can only charge a maximum of 28% interest on their loans. Previously, they charged up to 391% interest. I'll let that number sink in a second- Three Hundred and Ninety-One Percent. The new law also requires loans to be for no shorter than 31 days, much like a credit card.

The payday lending industry, not surprisingly, is not happy with this law. They are petitioning for the law to go on the ballot in November as a referendum. That is, of course, their right, and it is the right of everyone to make up their minds individually as to whether they think this is a good law or not. HOWEVER- the payday lending industry is using some questionable tactics and some questionable information to get this referendum on the ballot, which may be one of the things that irks me the most.

You may have seen a commercial where a farmer or a mother says that the lawmakers are trying to take away "our financial choices" or "eliminate 6,000 good paying Ohio jobs". That's not exactly what is happening. The law does not prohibit payday lending. The law limits the amount of interest that payday lenders can charge. The payday lenders are saying that they can't operate on only 28% interest, and this law will effectively close them down. Whether that is true or not, I can't say. I know a good deal about payday lending from the borrower's point of view, but less from the lenders' point of view. However, I will point out that payday lending in and of itself is predatory lending and also is limiting of financial choices. Here's why:

As the commercials say, you can borrow $100 and "it costs $15". This is true. What the commercial is not saying is that you are borrowing that $100 against your next paycheck and when your paycheck comes in, you have to pay $115 to clear the loan. So, then your paycheck is short by $115. What happens next? Well, if you've been living paycheck to paycheck and your expenses are right up to the limit of your check (or beyond), this means you're not going to be able to afford all your expenses, let alone any other unexpected things that come up. So, you either roll the loan over for another week or wind up getting another loan. The interest keeps accumulating, and you keep being short on your check because you have to pay something on this payday loan, which means you keep being unable to make ends meet. It's a cycle that is extremely difficult to break free of (not unlike credit card debt, but that's a different story. Trust me, it's easier to get out of credit card debt than it is to get out of these payday loans). And the people caught in this cycle are overwhelmingly low income households. They are not the sort of middle class people that the commercials portray. Why? Because the middle class and the higher income households have more financial options. Credit is easier to come by for people with moderate to high incomes because banks and credit card companies see them as a better risk than someone who is making 30 to 50% of the area median income. Also, higher income households just plain make more money and can potentially have more room to cut back on expenses in an emergency. You can do without cable for a couple of months, for example. It's harder to do without food.

I expect the commercials to be one-sided. I also expect them to lay out information in a way that supports their view- it's how political ads work. They happen to be targeting people who may not have any experience with payday lending, which is why I felt it was important to point out how payday lending is predatory and limiting of choices. That's not the real problem. The real problem is that there are signature gatherers for the petitions to put this on the ballot that are spreading misinformation in a variety of ways. Most of them probably don't even know they're spreading misinformation- they're doing what they've been told to do. The petitions are being represented as a way to save jobs in Ohio- they don't say anything about the lending or the bill itself. Some signature gatherers have said they're working for the State of Ohio, which is not true (and it may be illegal to misrepresent who you're working for when you're gathering signatures, I'm not sure). The payday lending industry denies these misrepresentations are taking place, but aside from the fact that I'd be suspicious of that denial anyway, I know people who have been approached with these petitions by signature gatherers who were presenting misinformation (full disclosure- I have not seen a petition as yet). In my mind, that's not on. It's unfair to the petition signers for them to not have an understanding of what it is they are signing.

Oh, and as one last note, the payday lending industry got the Secretary of State for Ohio to put language on the ballot where if you vote "no", you are actually voting *for* the repeal of the law. It's obfuscation, which I believe also has no place in a ballot (I'm fighting a losing battle there, I know).

So, this is all to say, be aware of what you are looking at when you are considering your votes this year. I'm not going to tell anyone to vote against the payday lenders- for one, I'm not allowed to do that sort of thing by the terms of my job (I'm giving information here; education is fine, lobbying is not). For another, I think people should make up their own mind. Just be educated when you make your decisions.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Oh, my God, they did it. Go USA!!

8 for 8!