Rants!

I’ve noticed that the more we’re quarantined from our old lives, the more I’m irritated by stuff that I used to blow off. I’m sure it’s because like everyone, tensions are just generally higher so our fuses are shorter. It can’t possibly be that there are more stupid people out there (can it?).

Over the past couple of years, I’ve sold a number of things on eBay and I’ve begun to notice things that just don’t make sense.  I’ve noticed when I list an item with a “Buy It Now” price, I’ll often see it shows with a number of folks “watching” it.  I just can’t help but think to myself “huh?  What are you watching it FOR?” Watching an item makes sense if it’s something in an auction, you see what happens, how many people bid on it, how high the price goes and you drop out if it’s too high, or get in on the action at the last moment.  But with a “Buy It Now” item, the price is what the price is.  If you’re interested enough to watch it, good grief, buy it.  I mean I can understand if it had been listed for a while and you want to see if perhaps the price will drop but for items that are likely to sell fast, and are newly listed at an appropriate price, well you snooze, you lose.

On those same lines, I’ve also dipped my toe into the world of online garage sales through Facebook a few times, and while my neighbor seems to be really successful at selling her things, I am not.  I don’t think it’s pricing, but honestly, I’m not sure what it is.  All I know is that I am continually getting messages like these:

“Is this still available?”

I’ll reply it is, and then that’s it.  I’m ghosted.  Not even the courtesy of a “thanks, but no thanks” or “I’ve changed my mind”.  Just nothing.  So, I’m done with Facebook sales, folks are just too inconsiderate there. 

When I’m on a website and there’s a dropdown to select criteria for something, why am I forced to actually go and choose that criteria when it’s the only one?  My bank, Wings Financial, has a nice mobile app and offers online deposits, which I love.  But when you go to the deposit option, it asks which account you want to deposit to, and when I select it, I find there is only one option.  WHY?  If you have only one, then for the love of God, make it the default, or better yet, don’t make me choose it at all but bypass it and go to the next step.  Worse yet?  When I go to a website that I’ve been to before and see that it says “Hello, Beth” but forces me to log in before I can put in an order.  It clearly knows it’s me, it greeted me!  Why do I need to log in again?  Argh.

I was on a work call the other day as they were talking about how we want to work harder on more digital.  We are all asked to think about ways we can do that in our areas, and the comment was made that our organization has tried several different apps for member engagement and they really haven’t worked.  I’m pretty sure I know why.  When companies come up with an idea for a new end user app, it goes like this:

“Hey, how about we give our members an app to let them do ABC?”

“Sure, that’s awesome!  Go for it”

And a team from the company comes together.  They follow a playbook of how to do this: What is the concept, who will use it, what do we want them to get out of it, how will they get the info, how will they access it, how will it look, etc.  Then a mock up is done, an app is built and tested and if it works, it’s rolled out.  What’s missing from this picture?  Well, a) did anyone even think to ASK end users if they like they idea and b) assuming they do, did anyone ASK THEM how they want it to look, feel and work?  All I could think about when I heard the leader on the call say our previous efforts didn’t work was that it’s probably because we fail to ask the people who use the app what they want and how they want it to work, like the previously mentioned bank app.  Maybe if more companies did that, they’d have happier customers.  The same holds true for business web pages.  It looks to me like many of them have a web designer who follows some instructions on what to do, but fails to either test it or fails to ask some end users to trial it and provide feedback.  As a result, the pages are something less than useful.  A good example is with Bed, Bath and Beyond.  I was looking for something there, and clicked to sort by price lowest to highest.  I then went and added filters, clicked apply and noticed it defaulted back to sort by Most Popular.  So, I selected sort by “Lowest to Highest Price” again and it removed my filters!  What the heck.  I tweeted the company and to their credit they did reply, but it remains to be seen if they actually fix it. 

And finally, something that will make you tilt your head and say “huh?” We found this the other day on a package of new mens underwear:

CEA37826-F7E1-4983-A5BD-B390E88974C3_1_201_a

Honestly, when was the last time YOU ironed YOUR underwear?

What kinds of kooky nonsense do you see in your world?

 

Bold Statements

Recently my husband and I took our first trip out of town since before the pandemic started. As we prepared for the trip, one of the things we noticed about preparation is that it’s a little bit like muscle memory – not doing it for a long time means that it’s difficult the first time, but you know it’s going to get easier again with subsequent trips. We brought a few things we didn’t need, and left behind one or two we could have used. But all in all, we did well for that first trip in well over a year.

We did what all fine Minnesotans do at some point in their lives: went up north. We have a friend that moved to northwestern Minnesota about 5 years ago after his retirement, and his place is out in the middle of, well, almost nowhere. 40 acres of peace, quiet and ultimate tranquility – almost. We did have to put up with 4-wheelers going by from time to time, but other than that, it was wonderful. We just chilled out, watched hummingbirds fly in and out from the feeder, tried to identify mystery birds that flew in and out, and enjoyed a lovely fire in the firepit when the wind died off in the evening.

We also had time to explore his property a bit, which was an adventure. There used to be a working farm on the site, which is long gone now. None of the original buildings remain, and his house sits in a different spot from where the original buildings were. The only structure that is there that might have been used by the original farm site is a corral, which my husband and I decided we needed to explore. The corral is now completely overgrown, and  as we made our way in past the loading ramp, which has side support boards only but nothing left to step on, and around to the side, where he got inside we were both startled when something scurried through the overgrowth and away from us. We never saw it very well but think it might have been a woodchuck.

Inside the corral we found 3 large plastic bins that appear to be for grease collection from restaurants. laying across them was a tall metal structure that might have been from a windmill, and we’re speculating it was there to keep the lids on the bins. About 6 feet from them was a galvanized steel watering trough that was upside down, and probably the only salvageable thing there. Turn it over and fill it with dirt, could make a cool planter!

As we finished up our walk in the woods, as all properly born and bred Minnesotans know you need to do a tick check, so we brushed off our clothes, then went inside and did a better check to make sure we hadn’t missed any. I even told our host I wasn’t worried, as I’ve been out in the woods a fair amount and haven’t had a tick since I was a kid. I really shouldn’t have said that, because of course bold statements like that will always get you in trouble. Fast forward to bedtime, and as I was about ready to hop in bed I happened to look down and spotted something brown below my knee that just didn’t want to come off. Yep, picked up a nasty little hitch hiker that somehow crawled up my pantleg and onto me. Fortunately my husband is great with a tweezers and was able to successfully pull him off me. I turned to let him check the rest of my legs, and danged if there wasn’t ANOTHER one on the back of my other leg behind the knee. I swear, I was so completely creeped out at that point, I scrubbed my scalp with my fingertips about 5 times before I got into bed, and I have no idea how I got to sleep. I woke up around 3 am, and was trying to go back to sleep when I had the strangest sensation of something moving on my collarbone. You guessed it…I had a third one. Fortunately that dude was still moving and I was able to pull him off REALLY fast. I only feel slightly bad about waking up husband to squash the thing dead in the middle of the night. I am pretty sure they weren’t deer ticks, just garden variety wood ticks, but honestly, who cares? They’re all nasty.

After we got back home, I happened to see a news story about how this year we have a bumper crop of wood ticks, due to all the rain and cool spring we had. Just lovely, although I did learn some interesting things about them that I hadn’t known. They tend to be on tall grasses and weeds in the shade – so if you’re hiking through the woods where there is lots of undergrowth, that’s where they will be. They hang out on the plants, waiting for some poor, unsuspecting fool to walk by, and then they jump on board. Their front legs have hooks on the ends, a little like velcro, so that they can grab on. If you are ‘lucky’ enough to have one on you, watch when you pull it off. You can see the little tiny hook feet kind of tug at your skin.  Where you won’t find them is in an open field in the sun, because UV desiccates them. That’s right, dang things are like vampires…stick ’em in the sun and they fry!  So my takeaway from our trip is to not make bold statements, and to avoid the vampires AND wood ticks take walks in the sun. Just remember your sunscreen.

Past Behavior Interviews Without Skills Analysis is a Predictor for Disaster

I read an article recently by Henry Claypool, policy director for the Community Living Policy Center at Brandeis University in which he discussed the risks and challenges of using Artificial Intelligence and automation to screen candidates for employment. He talked about how using these can be a recipe for discrimination with respect to people with disabilities, and described how companies are using tools and techniques such as resume screeners, which review candidates’ CVs for desired keywords, e.g. leadership on a sports team; sentiment analysis tools, which purport to analyze candidates’ movements during video interviews; and game-based tests, in which a candidate’s performance during an online game is compared to the performance of existing employees at the company ( NBC News Think Job Hiring.)

The practices he discusses have been going on for at least 15 years now. I can remember being told as a new manager in the early 2000’s that “past performance is the best predictor of future behavior” by the HR representative teaching a group of us about how to interview prospective candidates with the new tool that was developed. No more questions geared toward “what are your skills in A, B and C” but instead, they were proscriptive in defined categories, asking things like “tell me about a time when you were in a difficult situation. What did you do and what was the outcome?” Or perhaps “tell me about a time when you were faced with an ethical dilemma at work. What did you do? Were there repercussions?” Furthermore, we were no longer allowed to ask questions off the cuff, but were to limit them to either the list of prepared questions from HR, or at most, we could deviate by saying “tell me more about that”. But coming up with our own? No way.

I’m not saying answers to those questions aren’t important; they may be, and depending on the role they might even be critical. However, I’ve also seen an increasing and disturbing trend happening as well. By not asking what skills workers possess, and how proficient they are in those skills, we see a whole crop of nice people hired with soft skills that are somewhere between good to excellent, who show up for work and try their best but then stumble with hard skills and we scratch our heads puzzlement as to why.

I’ve worked in a call center where staff needed to have those soft skills, certainly but they also needed to know how to work on computers and to do so efficiently, effectively, and to be able to troubleshoot issues that come up. They needed to know how to navigate the internet, use a SharePoint, and multitask efficiently. Managers for these people needed to be able to look at excel spreadsheets to evaluate the data on their employees, understand trends and metrics and know how to make decisions accordingly. They needed to be skilled enough in technology to help their staff troubleshoot when something isn’t working correctly and decide when it’s time to call the help desk. I would guess it’s the same everywhere: if the only questions asked during interviews are around things like “tell me about a time when you felt like you were treated unfairly. What did you do?” it’s little wonder that staff and managers both struggle in their respective roles. I really don’t know why anyone is surprised. We don’t ask if they know anything about technology, or know how to add formulas to a spreadsheet, but we get frustrated when they can’t do the work that is expected.

The statement that past performance IS a good predictor of future behavior assumes that none of us learn from the past, whether good experiences or mistakes. It also assumes that none of our behaviors change, and that simply isn’t true at all. I’m not the same person I was 5 or even 10 years ago. My experiences during that time have informed my thoughts and what my behavior will be now, asking me what I did THEN isn’t really relevant. Ask me what I CAN do, what skills I’ve learned or developed. Maybe I haven’t been a manager for a few years, but in that time, I may have found a mentor and met weekly with that person, taken classes and volunteered someplace in my community. Or, maybe I was really immature and impulsive a few years ago but something happened to me that forced me to take a hard look at myself and I grew up. Since that time, I’ve learned to take a different approach to things, perhaps becoming more measured and thoughtful in my decision making. All of those things will shape my thoughts and actions and I know that I would respond to a situation very differently now than I would have without them. If a hiring manager only looks at that past behavior as the predictor of future actions, what kind of picture will be painted?

Furthermore, once in a role, I’ve never once had a manager ask me “so how did you handle this before?” when we tried to work through something. They might say “what do you think you should do?” or “what are your recommendations for handling this?” but they never have revisited the past behaviors concept. So, does it even have any value in the ongoing day-to-day work place? In the moment you’re taking the things you’ve learned and applying them to that particular situation as you try to find an appropriate solution to a problem.

Mr. Claypool goes on to say in his article that “We need employers, technologists and disabled people to make sure the hiring and retention of employees don’t rely on flawed algorithms that inadvertently or intentionally result in disability discrimination. They can begin by designing hiring tools that only measure essential functions of particular jobs, taking into account the alternative ways that disabled people can carry out job-related tasks.” I would stipulate that starts with moving away from the current style of interviewing and reincorporate the skills component again, asking candidates “tell me about what you can do.” If HR experts think that behavioral based interviewing has to remain, then it needs to evolve, advancing into a second phase that incorporates questions like “and would you do the same thing now? If not, why not?” or “How would your response change today?” Only then can we hire the correctly qualified candidates into jobs.

 

What’s a Picture Worth?

I have a husband who is good with projects. He’s creative, finds solutions, puts his own spin on it and voila!, problem solved and we have this repaired/renovated/new thing we didn’t have before that looks amazing. He gets out his phone and takes a picture of this thing and then I hear it:

“I sure wish we’d take a picture of this [insert project name here] before I started….”

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve both said that exact same phrase over the last 20 years. You’d think by now we’d have caught on and learned, right? The reality is, while we are catching on, we get the before photo maybe 20% of the time. Most of the time we think about it halfway in, when we’ve either started digging, moved furniture, or have half a structure built. We do get the photos then, and at the completion too, but it’s tougher to share the change with family and friends if they a) have never visited our house or b) haven’t been here in a while and don’t recall what it looked like in the first place.

This past year, confined to home as much as we were, quite a few more projects were tackled including painting the kitchen cabinets, building an enclosure for the garbage cans, adding a stepping stone path from the patio to the shed, building shelves for our CD and record collection, painting our front door and updating a bathroom. I think we had before photos for everything except where the CD and records went, (and he may have actually done that too), so I was thinking we really might have kicked that bad habit until a few days ago. He was getting ready to begin the second part of a project when I heard “I wish we had a picture of this from before we started”.

The other part of taking the before and after however, is the ‘in-betweens’, which I define as getting the photos of all of the work that went into the project and making the magic happen, and my husband is awesome at that. I think projects are like labor pains – once you see your finished project and how great it looks, you forget all about the pain and difficulty it took to get there. But having those in-betweens? You’ll never forget. Our project photos for the front door are time and date stamped, so of course I will always know we did it over my long July 4 weekend off from work, but they also remind me of how beastly hot and humid it was, and of the fact that the damn door had 5 – FIVE – coats of paint (including the primer) on it that needed to come off because it had bubbled and cracked, and when it had been painted before they used a roller and flat paint so all of the roughness showed. Our photos show the multiple coats of citrus stripper, the mess in the garage, our open front door being taped cover with a couple of huge pieces of cardboard to keep the house air conditioned. They don’t show that we pushed the coffee table against the cardboard and stacked stuff on that, so in case anyone tried to come through the cardboard it would make a horrid racket and wake us up. Not that we would wake up anyhow, since we were sleeping 10 feet away on our sleeper sofa. I don’t need photos for that!

The project photos also help me remember how we tried to seal off the kitchen with plastic so that dust from sanding wouldn’t go everywhere in the house. I kind of felt like I was in some sort of biohazard zone, wearing my particle mask so as not to inhale microscopic varnish bits. Yeah, like I could forget THAT! (Actually I probably could, it bordered on traumatic.)

2021 is still young, maybe we’ll only forget this once.

Now that it’s all said and done, here are a few of our 2020 projects, before and after. Just don’t ask to see the ‘in-betweens’.

Befores Afters

Staying Virus Free

It’s a frightening time to be in our world, isn’t it? Many of us in developed countries have heard the word pandemic, but never really expected to be living smack dab in the middle of one. After all, we have great health care (not always affordable, but that’s an argument for another day), food, shelter, (most of us), and can do fun things like going to a library to read books by our favorite medical authors (it’s a great time to discover Carrie Rubin). Now, in what feels like the blink of an eye, we are overwhelmed by life as dictated by COVID19.

I’m lucky that in my day job I get information about COVID almost as fast as it changes, so I’ve pulled some of the most relevant things together here for everyone. I’m guessing by now most of this isn’t new, but even refreshers are good.  If you have a blog, please feel free to repost and share. If you have information that I didn’t include, let me know and I’ll update the post. Disclaimer: While I’ll share what I’ve learned and will include links to the CDC or WHO sites, please confirm all information for yourself. I am not taking responsibility if you don’t clean well enough or don’t fully educate yourself, nor am I a replacement for the CDC or your state’s Department of Health.

If you’re wondering why it’s called COVID19, that comes from COronaVIrus Disease 2019. Well, I suppose they had to abbreviate it somehow, and that’s probably as good as any. It’s primarily spread through droplets, meaning if I have it (regardless of whether or not I have symptoms) and I cough and send invisible droplets with the virus out into the air, if you inhale some, or land on surfaces you touch, and you then touch your mouth, nose, eyes etc, you can get it too. Symptoms of the virus can be found here at the CDC website and I’d rather you go there for specific and expert advice on that because they can vary.

Here’s a little info about COVID19, it’s what is called an envelope virus, meaning it has an outer covering that can be disrupted. If it is, it dies. Soap will disrupt it, as will alcohol and peroxide, and potentially heat and low humidity. So lathering up your hands, breaks up that envelope, and washes off the virus. The CDC recommends both cleaning AND disinfecting surfaces. You can use soap and water to clean, then something else to disinfect. And of course THAT’s where it can be difficult, because we all know that bleach and sanitizing wipes have been in very short supply. I’m starting to see them back in the supplies again but amounts you can purchase are limited. One thing to note: Pay attention with the wipes for how long they need to be in contact with a surface to be effective, as it varies. Some are 30 seconds, others are 4 minutes. How do you know? Keep reading.

There was an interesting article on CNN recently about the published list of acceptable disinfectants against COVID19. You can find that list here  by clicking on the link for “the tool” and to use it you will need to know something called an EPA Registration Number. What’s that, you ask? Well, on each container of wipes there is some information on it that you NEVER paid attention to before, which is the EPA Registration number, or EPA REG NO. On my Target Up and Up branded wipes, it was on the front lower left, and looks like this:8D79B400-B4EB-4B20-979C-27A4300F1A3B

Everything like this that’s made is supposed to have a number, and here is the interesting part; with something like Up and Up, they don’t make their own product, it’s made for them by someone else. If that item has the identical formula as another product, then they have to have the same EPA REG NO, even if the brand names are different. So you can cross check wipes, liquids, gels, sprays, whatever is on the list to see if the number on your product is on here. If it is, then it’s an acceptable disinfectant for COVID19 according to the CDC. Remember to bookmark the site and recheck it too, I had looked for these wipes about 10 days ago and they were not on the list, and today they are.

When you enter the number you’ll see something like this:Screen Shot 2020-12-08 at 6.28.50 AMThat shows that it works for COVID, and that it needs to stay on the surface for 4 minutes to work. So make sure your surface is wet enough that it will stay wet for 4 full minutes, otherwise you might as well have not bothered. I also tried to look up my generic bleach, and found that it did not have an EPA number, so I searched by ingredient instead. What I found was that there is a variety of contact times for sodium hypochlorite (bleach) depending on brand. Who knew?

I’ve also learned that the virus lives pretty well on plastic and steel but not as well on cardboard or copper. This graphic from the New England Journal of Medicine (sourced from Business Insider) has helpful info:

Screen Shot 2020-03-21 at 10.21.46 AM

It apparently can also live for a few days on fabric…so you might want to consider changing clothing when you get home if you’ve been out shopping and toss the others in the wash.

However here are some things I’ve learned about preventing the spread.

  • Wipe down groceries when you bring them in the house
  • Wash clothes in the hottest water you can, and with a bleach detergent if possible.
  • Dry several times on the hottest setting you can.
  • Wash. Your. Hands. Yes, really. Save the hand sanitizer folks, for when you go out. First of all, you can’t buy the damn stuff anyhow right now, why waste what you have. Second, the CDC has said that washing with soap and water for a good 20 seconds is MORE effective than sanitizer.

Amidst all this, don’t forget to be kind to each other, look out for each other, rest well, eat right and try to get outside and get exercise by walking or biking if you can. Remaining healthy both mentally and physically will help do a lot to keep your immune system functioning!

Oh yeah, and wear a damn mask. Just remember: DE2A4F83-BF81-4AF2-AFF5-1CC5B846B388

Advice from F. Scott Fitzgerald

After making a grocery store run the other day, I’d just finished wiping the packaging down and my husband was starting to put things away when he made an interesting observation. “There’s an awful lot of exclamation points on the packages. Just about everything has one.”

We started looking at the packaging of prepared foods and snacks, and it was readily apparent how right he was. I took some pictures and here are a few examples:

FE8E402D-2D1A-4CB8-B7CF-692686C04DEF_1_201_a70F54D99-A1EF-45B5-BF86-DA0F9CA53BBA_1_201_aF313ACEE-316C-4DC3-86E5-0A7284EC3334

Even Ree Drummond’s jar of marinara sauce had to get in on the act. 4C658059-7069-4587-844C-79C866130BB2

On the back label, where it describes the sauce, the end of the paragraph reads “…it’s a cheese lover’s dream!”

Apparently the exclamation point has been around since the 1500s, and was a derivation from “io” which was an expression of joy. Eventually it morphed into being written with the I over the O to shorten up space. Who knew? (It should also not be confused with the catchy chant from down under that is heard at sporting events, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” immediately followed by “Oi, oi, oi!” But that’s spelled differently and as far as I can tell, doesn’t mean anything other than a general “we love you, support you and are tipping a pint in your honor, mate!”

Since then, marketing ‘geniuses’ everywhere have co-opted the exclamation point and want us to THINK it means something akin to joy, when it really just means “I want you to think you can’t live without me.”617DC9B1-6357-4EF3-9FCD-95F0535C6FA9 Obviously it’s working, otherwise they wouldn’t continue doing it. Even on healthy choices, they’re using it to make you feel good about what you just picked up. “You made this choice, it healthy, how smart of you.” Or maybe the message is “Well aren’t you the good planner. F531EBBB-E2DF-48FE-B547-E614D30500F1Your gathering will be special because you have enough crackers. It’s a family size box and you won’t run out, no one will be hungry or feel slighted. But what would happen if it weren’t there? Would you still buy the product? Of course you would. The bigger question is, are you driven to buy one brand over the other because of the exclamation point? I’m going to guess probably not, unless you’re either a) trying a completely new product or b) that exclamation point is part of something else in the packaging that caught your eye, such as telling you that it has “30% more!” in the package. Seriously, would you buy it if the label just said “!”? Of course not, it’s the “30%” that gets your attention.

It isn’t limited to foods, either. The cover of a clothing catalog had this at the bottom:

“10% off! Details on Back Cover ⎮ 100+ NEW GIFT IDEAS INSIDE!”

And this isn’t some new phenomenon either. I’ve been working on selling some HO scale trains on eBay, that had belonged to my father, and included in them are some of the catalogs he’d ordered from including a Tyco 1972-73 and several Fleischmanns. On the back page of the Tyco the description accompanying the photo for the Super Road and Rail ( a combination slot car and train set up) “Two complete sets in one!”.  The inside cover of the Fleischmann catalog from 1973 has this:C8559C02-A54A-48AF-A613-B5A9C471B353_1_201_a

For the curious, if my Google Translate is doing it’s thing correctly, here is the translation (for my Canadian and French-speaking friends, please correct any mistakes!).

Hey! Friends! Embark and take a seat on a dream trip through the Hobby Kingdom. This is what is Extraordinary at FLEISCHMANN! You realize every moment that all fabrications are the result of a fundamental principle of precision, a constant study of quality and a continual tendency towards perfection. Everything matches and everything adapts, which is why the name “FLEISCHMANN” is the best guarantee for your confidence in a quality article. FLEISCHMANN is your protector against boredom! Whether you only have a few minutes or several hours! With FLEISCHMANN you have a permanent passport for permanent fun, which is why we wish you “Bon Voyage”. Sale to the consumer is only through retail stores. We will be happy to give you the addresses of our dealers. and rights reserved. By the publication of this catalog, all previous catalogs and current prices are canceled. – All modifications Printed in Germany INN 8.73 Ho Any advice will be gladly given to you by your retailer.”

Next time you’re at the store, or even shopping online, look at the labels of things and see if you notice it. Once we started looking, it was goofy how many we found in a single grocery trip.

By now you’re probably starting to wonder, what in the world does F. Scott Fitzgerald, that great literary genius of “The Great Gatsby” fame, have to do with exclamation points and grocery stores? The answer is quite a bit, actually. He once said this, and it’s rather apt:

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

I have to admit, I wholeheartedly agree.

You Want More of This…?

As we move closer to election day, we continue to hear more alarming things come out of Trump’s mouth on an almost daily basis. He’s setting the stage for a coup, to enable himself to become the dictator of the Trumpian States of America. Amazingly, there are people who believe this is a fine idea, because why not? These last four years have been a grand ride, why not do this all the time?

Folks, you really aren’t seeing the long view, are you? Once one piece of our Constitution is broken, it all can go. We are guaranteed to have free and fair elections, and a peaceful transfer of power. If Trump removes that and declares himself the winner either by having the senators determine the electoral vote, or simply by not leaving, then what is to stop him from telling us the rest of the Constitution is null and void as well?  You know all the screaming you’ve done about having your 2nd Amendment rights violated, and that a candidate from the Democratic party is infringing on that? Or how awful you think ‘Obamacare’ or the ACA is? Or what about the fact that you’ve been able to speak up at all? If you haven’t thought about that, well, now is the time.

All you need do is look around you at life under other dictators, and it’s pretty easy to see that what you think of as being a pleasure cruise, will become just another nightmare. Gun rights? Gone. That freedom to speak your mind, travel where you want to and stand in front of a government building, throwing fire bombs, smoke bombs or just f-bombs? Gone. (Not that those were good ideas in the first place.) Want to work where you want to, or do what you want to? Gone. Don’t think the rules of the ACA are right, or that it should even exist at all? Then I imagine you’ll love government run Trumpcare, which will determine what benefits you have, and how much money is allocated for those benefits. If they don’t put enough money toward it because this year Trump doesn’t want to, then either you pony up out of pocket, or you just don’t get that medicine because you aren’t allowed to. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you’re on the side of anarchy now, doesn’t mean you get any kind of a pass later. No, you’ll just be Citizen No. 12657390. Just as likely – perhaps more so – to get tossed in jail for activities against the state. Think not? Check these out…

Gun laws in Dictatorships

Russia: According to the Library of Congress, “Individuals are not allowed to carry guns acquired for self-defense; a license only serves as a carrying permit for hunting and sport firearms when these guns need to be transported. Russian citizens may not own guns that shoot in bursts or have magazines with more than a ten-cartridge capacity.”

In North Korea, the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law.

In China, Civilian ownership of firearms is largely restricted to non-individual entities such as sporting organizations, hunting reserves, and wildlife protection, management and research organizations. The chief exception to the general ban for individual gun ownership is for the purpose of hunting.

Cuba: In Cuba, the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law, and civilians are not allowed to possess pen guns, cane rifles, rifles with a calibre greater than 5.6 millimeters, machine and sub-machine guns of any kind, home-made firearms, shortened shotguns, firearms that have been modified with devices to make them more efficient, and certain types of ammunition. Private possession of fully automatic weapons is prohibited, and handguns (pistols and revolvers) are permitted under license. Civilian possession of rifles and shotguns is regulated by law.

Healthcare

Russia does guarantee free health care, 48% of expenditures comes from government sources which primarily come from medical insurance deductions from salaries. While there appears to be private insurance there, the state insurance improved during the 90’s and 2000’s to be very competitive, then it’s quality significantly declined. Due to the Russian financial crisis since 2014, major cuts in health spending have resulted in a decline in the quality of service of the state healthcare system. About 40% of basic medical facilities have fewer staff than they are supposed to have, with others being closed down. Waiting periods for treatment have increased, and patients have been forced to pay for more services that were previously free.

In China, about 95% of the population has at least basic health insurance coverage. Despite this, public health insurance generally only covers about half of medical costs, with the proportion lower for serious or chronic illnesses. In urban areas, insurance isn’t free either. And in rural areas where it is, the quality of care varies widely.

North Korea claims to provide universal health care with a national medical service and health insurance system. North Korea claims that health services are offered for free. However, this claim has been contrasted by North Korean defectors, who claim that patients must in fact pay for health services, that the upper classes have access to a higher standard of healthcare than ordinary ones do, and that “how much money a patient has determines whether they live or die”.

Cuba’s national health system is made up of multiple tiers: 1) the community containing individuals and families, 2) family doctor-and-nurse teams, 3) basic work teams, 4) community polyclinics, 5) hospitals, and 6) medical institutes. The Family Physician and Nurse program is made up of physician and nurse teams that serve individuals, families, and their communities. Polyclinics are community-based clinics that house primary care specialists, and exist in every Cuban community. While preventive medical care, diagnostic tests and medication for hospitalized patients are free, some aspects of healthcare are paid for by the patient

Freedom of Speech

Cuba: The Cuban constitution recognizes the freedom of the press, and prohibits private ownership of the media. “Only 25 percent of Cubans use the internet, while only five percent of homes are connected”, making it one of the Americas’ least-connected countries. The Internet is censored; a number of websites are blocked, and access to information is scarce.North Korea: Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and nations such as the United States have asserted that, in practice, there is no right to free speech, and the only media providers that are deemed legal are those operated by the government.

China: The only people in China who can publish criticisms of, or opinions contrary to those of, the Communist Party, are senior members of the Communist Party. Academics and editors of China’s state-controlled publications are afforded somewhat less leeway than Party officials, but still more than the average person.

Russia: In 2019 Russia introduced new regulation commonly called “fake news law” which criminalizes publications containing “unreliable” information as well as opinions that show “disrespect for society, government, state symbols, the constitution and government institutions”. The law was criticized for vague wording allowing selective application e.g. against political opposition. Since 2009, the practice of the law enforcement agencies (most notably FSB) was to abuse newly introduced anti-extremism laws to suppress freedom of speech, including corruption investigations. On 31 March 2013, The New York Times reported that Russia was beginning ‘Selectively Blocking [the] Internet’.

That’s a glimpse of life under Trump as ‘president’ for life here. So, all those ‘rights’ you keep harping on, well, don’t worry, you won’t have them because we won’t have a Constitution. No Constitution, no rights. And if you think it can’t happen here, think again. He’s already trying to set the stage, with declaring the media “enemies of the government”, and “fake news” (hmm, look familiar?), telling us what he wants us to know around COVID-19, hiding his tax returns, installing his family and flunkies in positions of authority, and making us all question each other. It’s not too late to keep it from happening.

Vote on November 3.

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Why Dan Patrick (and the GOP) Are Wrong

I heard Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick say something a while back on a news bite that made me stop in my tracks.

“There is no reason — capital N, capital O — no reason that anyone under 65 should be able to say I am afraid to go vote,” Patrick, a Republican, said in an interview with Fox News. “Have they been to a grocery store? Have they been to Walmart? Have they been to Lowe’s? Have they been to Home Depot? Have they been anywhere? Have they been afraid to go out of their house? This is a scam by the Democrats to steal the election.”

What? Is he serious? Unfortunately, he was. And he’s dead wrong too.Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 6.49.13 AM

There are many reasons why people under the age of 65 are afraid to go and vote with a pandemic. Anyone with a compromised or suppressed immune system is at very high risk of catching – and dying from – coronavirus. Their immune systems are just not able to fight off infections, either because the disease they have has made their body not able to fight off infections or because they are taking some kind of medication that has chemically suppressed their immune system. This could include people with different types of cancers either because of the disease, or because they are receiving chemotherapy, anyone who has HIV or AIDS, and anyone that has received an organ transplant. It could also include some people with psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, because some of the medication they take suppress the immune system as well. Heart disease? Check. Lung diseases like cystic fibrosis? Check. Crohn’s disease, having your spleen removed, bone marrow ablation, genetic immunodeficiency, diabetes and chronic kidney disease are also on the list. Guess what Mr. Patrick? All of those affect individuals of all ages.

Add to the group above everyone in their households, because if a spouse, significant other, child or parent brings home the virus, then the immunocompromised person could get it from them, and if they do, they will probably die because their immune system is unable to fight off infections. For some of them even a common cold means the risk of pneumonia, and getting a flu shot each year is critical. So, when coronavirus became a “thing”, and the CDC said “wash your hands”, they did. When the CDC said “wear a mask”, they did that too. And when their medical providers said “it’s not safe for you to work and be around so many people”, they either quit or took a leave of absence and thanked God for unemployment (if they had a state that wasn’t a complete cluster about it) and the stimulus.

How do I know this?  My husband was blessed 29 years ago with a kidney transplant, making our household one that is immunocompromised, thus we take many precautions to keep him safe. We wash our hands – a lot. We wear masks if we go out, and use hand sanitizer. I wipe down the groceries before they come in the house, and as a rule, I don’t go shopping for them in the store. I order them online, then go through the drive though that my grocery store offers and have the loaded in my vehicle. I order everything I possibly can online, trying to respect the delivery folks as much as possible by bundling my orders up and having a single delivery day. Neither of us has had a professional haircut in months (I’ve learned to cut my husband’s hair, and it actually doesn’t look too bad!), unlike you Mr. Patrick, who is freshly shorn by a stylist. I no longer enjoy luxuries I used to indulge in because they aren’t safe, like manicures or dining out. I wipe down surfaces in our home with bleach, as well as my car on the few occasions I do go out. I’ve seen my mother four times since March, and made her wear a mask each time. We do still attend church, but online. I will admit having gone to Home Depot but I don’t wander the aisles. I order what I need ahead of time when I can and have it waiting for me at customer service so I can get in and get out or have a plan so I am in and out quickly.

Now, maybe they don’t have these problems down in Texas, with folks getting sick or needing dialysis and transplants, or maybe Mr. Patrick, like so many members of the GOP is just so out of touch with real people and real problems that he’s just clueless to the realities of life. Of course, we’re now learning there is a third option, which is the public message they say on camera or through their Twitter feed, and the private message when they think few are listening. I suspect he knows the truth even if he won’t admit it publicly, and there isn’t one single thing he – or anyone else – can say to me to convince me to take risks that would endanger my husband’s life.

We’re under the age of 65 in this household, and have plenty of reason to NOT vote in person, Mr. Patrick. (And if you live in the Washington, DC area, as we learned this week you might have some new reasons for not voting in person, as POTUS and FLOTUS mutual COVID -19 diagnoses are the gift that keeps on giving.) Fortunately for us, we live in a progressive state that allows absentee voting without an excuse, and we are exercising that right. Neither you, your ignorance not your great desire to align with a man who believes that  herd mentality will save us, are going to put that at risk. And contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence of any kind that mailing in your ballot promotes voter fraud.

Note: Your vote counts. To find out if you can vote absentee in your state, and what the rule are, go to  Vote.org. If you are concerned, like many of us are, about Louis DeJoy and the efforts he has undertaken to undermine the ability of the USPS to deliver your vote on time, please look to see if there is a location near you in your county with a drop box for your ballot. In ours, there are a number of them where ballots can be dropped beginning weeks before the election, so we don’t need to rely on the post office. If you live in Texas, you won’t be so lucky as the governor there has restricted drop offs to one location per county.

Vote. It could be your last chance.

 

 

Thank You For Your Service

For the past 18 months, I’ve had the incredible honor of working in a role that supports members of the military and their families. Like many of you, I know that when you serve in the military, you might be stationed overseas, your spouse might be deployed not once or twice but multiple times and that while challenging, the benefits in serving are great. In spite of having family members who have served in the military as well as a number of friends and even a neighbor or two (thank you for your service, Uncle Denny, Uncle Al, Tim, Mark, Mary, Dave “Superstar!”, Stephanie, Bob and many others) and having a great uncle who was MIA in WWII and never came home, I never really appreciated what that meant before this job.

These people – the active duty members of the military and their families – sacrifice more than any of us can imagine. They miss birthdays, holidays, first steps, first communions, last days of school and last days of life. If stationed stateside and working in support roles, they might be fortunate enough to see their families every day, and are home for dinner. If they’re stationed what is referred to as OCONUS (Outside of the CONtinental US) then consider that the family packed up what they had and moved, perhaps for the umpteenth time, to a country where they may not speak the language and settle into a house that is probably not new, with appliances, fixtures and carpeting that have perhaps seen better days and no option to replace them because they’re living in military housing. They have to find an English language school for their kids, doctors, places to shop and then just about the time they get it all figured out, they have to pack up and do it again. For those that are deployed, family stays behind while the soldier is serving somewhere around the world, perhaps in a place that the family can’t even know about. When they can call home, they might be limited on the number of minutes allowed for the call and have to call at odd times of the day depending on where they are at, just to make up the time difference to call at normal times for their families. They do this without complaining and with amazing grace and dignity.

They are in service to our country. Think about what that means for a moment. They do what they do, so we can walk freely, speak freely, love freely. They keep us and our democracy safe. It’s selfless, the stress is unbelievable, and when they are serving in places like Afghanistan, Iraq or Kandahar, they don’t know if they’ll come home and hug their spouse or kids, their kids, in a coffin, or at all. I heard retired Major General Paul Eaton speak on TV two nights ago, and he said “our solders are taught to trust their commanders, to go where they are told and to fight for their country without question, because they trust that no matter what, their country will bring them home.” His voice was so full of passion and emotion, it was almost overwhelming to hear. Click here and watch his message on Twitter, and to see his interview with Rachel Maddow, click here. (The link goes to YouTube, the first part is an equally powerful interview with a Gold Star mother, and well worth watching. Eaton’s interview begins around the 12:50 mark.)

We are lucky here in the US. When we have an emergency, we can call 9-1-1 from any phone and help will come. If you call from a landline, they’ll even know your location without being told (unfortunately, that technology doesn’t exist with cell phones, so make sure to provide a location when calling from a cell phone.) When the military and their families are overseas, and an emergency arises, if they need an ambulance they may not be able to simply call 9-1-1 because not all countries have that. Some countries have other emergency codes, some have none at all. Imagine being in a country where you don’t speak the language, and have no way to pick up the phone and call to get an ambulance when you need one. How would you handle it?

I have no frame of reference what it would be like in combat, but would imagine it’s terrifying, regardless of how much training you’ve received, never knowing if the next step results in stepping on a hidden trigger device, or if you’re in the crosshairs of a gun and all the while having the sound of constant bombardment everywhere, day and night. How long would you last? Are you willing to put on battle fatigues, learn to follow orders without question, pick up a gun, and do what you’re told in cold, ice, snow, rain, sand, and desert heat, combined with unrelenting noise all the time, constant shelling and bombs everywhere?

My respect for the military  and their families is beyond what I can put into words, and it is my greatest honor to be in a role where I can continue working with nurses who support and help them every day. We try to make life just a little less difficult for them and from the comments I see and hear I know we are successful in doing that. This week, hearing Donald Trump call those in our military who were wounded, or didn’t come home “suckers” and “losers” makes me sick to my stomach and angry. Our military and their families do NOT deserve to be disrespected and invalidated like that.  A commander-in-chief who, according to a report in Vanity Fair

In one account, the president told senior advisers that he didn’t understand why the U.S. government placed such value on finding soldiers missing in action because they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

His disdain for our military is such that he and first wife Ivana said if their kids joined the military they would be “disowned in a second.” Let that sink in for a moment. Their message wasn’t “we don’t want you to do this because we’re afraid something will happen to you”, it was “we think so little of the military that we will kick you out of this family and it’s money if you become a part of it”. This is who you want leading your troops?

My grandmother watched every day at her kitchen window for years, hoping that would be the day she would see her baby brother come home from WWII. It wasn’t until many years later that she learned he had died in France, and how. We’ve never recovered his remains, and in the last year my mom started working with an agency that matches DNA to unidentified remains still there, in hopes we may still be able to bring him home. Mr. Trump, my Uncle Ches was NOT a sucker or a loser. He was a young man who unlike you, believed in serving his country and defending her against ALL enemies, foreign and domestic. He did so with honor, and yes, he, along with all the others who remain missing, deserve to come home and be buried on US soil.

One of our greatest gifts as a democracy is belonging to any political party we want to and then exercising our right to vote for our candidate of choice and to do so in private. That means you never need tell anyone who you voted for. (This is HUGE!)  However part of being a responsible voter is to evaluate what a candidate stands for, regardless of their party and vote for them based on their platform. What is their record? What have they done, not just what do they say? It’s not only OK to belong to one party and vote another, it’s acceptable, even responsible. You’ve already heard the phrase “Country over party” many times these last 4 years, and it means more now than ever. Please, regardless of the party you are affiliated with as a registered voter, vote for someone who respects and supports our military troops. If you aren’t a registered voter, please get registered. If you’re worried about voting with COVID, go to Vote.org and find out how you can vote absentee in your state. (Whatever you do, don’t try to vote absentee and then in person. It’s probably a felony in your state. )

It’s that important.

The Great Minnesota Stay Apart

 

Well kids, it’s that time of year again in Minnesota,  time to be thinking about putting away the white shoes (can’t wear ’em after Labor Day, you know!), stocking up on pens, pencils and getting the kiddos back to school and most of all, the Minnesota State Fair – except for this year. 

Here in Minnesota, our state fair is almost a state holiday, and today would have been opening day. It’s so iconic that all we have to do is refer to it as “The Great Minnesota Get Together” and everyone knows what we’re talking about. The people watching! The shows! The food! The dairy barn! The midway! It’s all there, no matter who you are and what you enjoy for interests and hobbies. Unless you are genuinely afraid of crowds, the fair is one of the biggest parties of the year. While Texas is technically the largest state fair in the country with 2.25 million visitors each year, I would argue that Minnesota is the clear winner. Consider this: Sure, Texas has more visitors, but it takes them 24 days to get all those folks. We hit 2 million in 10 days last year. And Fair Park, where the Texas State Fair is held is ONLY 277 acres, compared to our 322 acres. So by both physical size and daily attendance, we are the largest. 

I think most Minnesotans (and nearby Wisconsinites and Iowans) are in mourning with the cancellation of the fair this year. There is an an event coming up where folks had a chance to get tickets for a “State Fair Food Parade” and get some of the fair food like donuts, cheese curds, french fries and lots of other wonderful fair foods. Tickets were $20, and the plan is that you drive in to a proscribed route and purchase what you want. Apparently the site to buy the tickets crashed, it was so popular, and the event was completely sold out in something like 30 minutes. I’m about ready to go out and buy a deep fryer, just to make my own cheese curds and mini donuts. My husband and I go to the fair every year, and yep, each of us have our usual food favorites including spaghetti on a stick (mine), cheese curds (his) and Sweet Martha’s Cookies (ours).

What? You say you’ve never had Sweet Martha’s Cookies? Gosh, I don’t know what to tell you except they are kind of an out of this world experience. Imagine feeling tired and weary, having been on your feet all day.

 

Now get a plastic bucket about 8″ across and 6″ deep heaping with fresh, still-warm-from-the-oven soft chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk. There isn’t anything better. (And when I say heaping, I’m SO not kidding. The workers pile the cookies in the bucket while you watch, and keep piling them until no more can be added without the next cookie falling off. Only then do they quit, giving you the lid to your bucket on the side. So of course you must eat some before you can put the lid on to head home!

We also love our people watching. We’ve seen just about every combination of attire, hair and makeup that you can imagine. I’m talking about guys in women’s clothes (but more like they just came from dress rehearsal for a really weird play) or women in guys outfits or someone dug in their mom’s closet and pulled out an outfit from 1967 and thought “hey, this will get attention” and put it on! Then there is the blue, purple and green hair, sometimes all three on the same person! It is so much fun to get a glass of cold lemonade and some finger food, find a bench to sit on near the grandstand and just watch people. Then there is the music, which is all day long at the fair, much of it free. With several different stages located throughout the park, and a variety of musical acts booked, virtually all tastes can be satisfied. Polka, rock, country, kids, Christian…it’s all there. About 10 years ago we were walking around one evening after dark and hear this woman singing on one of the free stages. Her voice was beautiful, absolutely haunting. We sat down on the grass and listened to her, and she was wonderful. She talked about how she really loved to visit here because her grandparents were from here so she had really good memories of Minnesota. Her songs were fantastic and we knew we were hearing someone that was on the edge of a career really getting started. We bought her CD – The Story – and  I doubt you’ll find Brandi Carlisle giving free concerts now ANYWHERE, but it sure was great being at that one.

I’m sad we can’t be at the fair this year. I understand it, and am completely in agreement with the decision to not have one this year, but like most of our state, it just doesn’t seem like the end of summer without the fair. I look forward to our traditions like going to the DNR building to watch the fish pond, or climbing the fire tower to look out over the fairgrounds. If I’m really lucky, I’m there the same day as either my niece or nephew and can meet up with them in the beer gardens. Last year my nephew’s girlfriend was there and spent a little time with us, which was wonderful. We even ran into my niece unexpectedly outside the food court – 200,000 of your closest friends roaming around 300 acres, and she spots me from a few yards off! What a lovely and unexpected surprise.

I hope by this time next year we’re all returning to our traditions, they’re so special, and maybe I’ll get to surprise my niece, her husband and their new baby next time.