Thursday, March 27, 2003

I am Big Brother II

One of the first lessons I learned when I started working the shelter almost 9 years ago was how to laugh at myself. I was in my mid twenties, looking a lot younger and working in a shelter with mostly adult men. I thought I'd have to be tough to earn people's respect. The first few times I got indignant or angry about something, after blustering on about it a bit, I was met with, at worst, outright laughter and teasing, and at best, puzzlement. I could see people looking at me thinking, "What the hell is she going on about?" My old Executive Director taught me how to take a step back and say, "I was wrong," and the people in the shelter taught me how to get past it. Really the only thing you can do when you're caught taking yourself way too seriously is join in the laughter. It was never unkind laughter because I think everyone knew my heart was in the right place even though I was a little misguided. You really don't want to hear about all the times I've had to do this in the years since then. Sometimes, indignation and anger were justified and many times, they were just me being crabby or misunderstanding or over-reacting. Humor serves many purposes in the shelter, and there is definitely a deep stream of gallows humor on streets, but I am proud to have been the source of a lot of your basic slapstick comedy.

I spent part of yesterday setting up the Internet on a few more computers in the shelter computer lab and checking the Internet browsing logs from the past week. I was irritated to find that someone had been browsing for porn and had been able to load some sites despite the filtering software. I was grumbling to myself about the abuse of privileges (see the indignation keeps rearing it's ugly head) when another staff member came by and pointed out that the surfing had been done in the late afternoon a few hours before the shelter opened. Suspicion quickly moved from shelter guests to the neighborhood kids in for afternoon basketball. I double-checked to make sure all the bad sites were blocked and went home for the night. My drive home was punctuated by many grumblings and shakings of the head. This morning, after a little checking, I realized that the culprit was a little closer to home. I had in fact been that culprit. The logs were from the afternoon I spent testing and trying to evade the filter.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Network for Good has links to humanitarian efforts in Iraq if you'd like to contribute. You can also learn how to support U.S. troops, donate blood and find other volunteer opportunities.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I finally had to admit that the stapler kicked my butt. I spent thirty minutes trying to fix our Stanley Bostitch heavy duty stapler. I thought something had just been thrown out of whack because someone put the wrong staples in the thing. The stapler retails for something between $37 and $60. It's not a huge amount of money but we're short on funds right now, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to try. I can usually fix things if they're just jammed or bent. I took the whole thing apart and I have to admit I was darned pleased with myself when I was able to do it. Most of the time I can find some kind of helpful hints or at least a diagram online for fixing things, but this time the search drew a blank. After a lot of trial and error with a spring and that thin, flat thingy that pushes the staple down out of the stapler, I thought I had it working again. I put it all back together and it worked for exactly one staple. I know what the problem is. The thingy isn't coming back up after it pushes the staple out. There's a groove in the handle where either the spring or the thingy goes (or a piece that's missing). Maybe the spring is supposed to pull the thingy back up? It'll have to wait until tomorrow. It may have kicked my butt tonight, but I'll have another go at fixing it tomorrow. I'm open to suggestions from any of you who are mechanically inclined.
Excuse my rant...

War on poverty not people

As everyone's probably heard by now, Bush has asked for $74.7 billion to pay for the next six months of the war in Iraq. The amount itself is scary. Even scarier is that he still wants a tax cut. Even scarier than that, is that the amount seems so little when I think of the devastation we'll be leaving behind. I shouldn't be surprised. After all, we are the richest nation in the world and we've done such a good job of helping to rebuild Afghanistan.

And then there's our own people. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has similar philospsohy to Bush's. He's made drastic cuts to Health and Human Services and other programs to balance the state budget. He still plans on giving a tax cut to the rich, citing years of government "over-spending." (Taking care of people and investing in our society is over-spending?) His rationale for the cuts to services for the poor and others, such as those with disabilities, is that Minnesota will still be more generous with its benefits than surrounding states. Like Bush, he keeps talking about faith and other community groups stepping up to the plate to provide services that the government shouldn't be providing. We already are and there's not a lot more that we can do. Last week, I was talking to one of the shelter dinner volunteers. She had spoken that day to food shelves in Minneapolis and in Bloomington. They've had huge increases in food requests, over 30% in the suburbs and 40% in the city. I'm hearing the same thing from all sorts of human service agencies. With donations, governement and foundaiton funding all down, many nonprofits are laying off staff and closing down programs. Need for all of our services is increasing, not going away. How Pawlenty expects us to serve more with less money is beyond me. More importantly, cutting assistance to the poor only shifts that costs down to the local level and often increases them. When someone doesn't have money for health insurance anbd access to healthcare, they tend to wait until a condition requires emergency care or they use the emergency room for things an ordinary doctor's visit can cover. Medication and treatment for conditions such as diabetes is a lot cheaper than hospitalization. Pre-natal care is a lot cheaper than the complications caused by the lack of that care. Providing a mat in a shelter is a lot cheaper than a night in medical detox. A night in a shelter is a lot cheaper than hospitalization for exposure or the effects of a mugging (sleeping outside in the summer is often more dangerous than during the winter). All of the programs for children and youth are an investment in making the world a better place for all of our children. I know that everyone who pays taxes would like to take more home, but everyone I've talked to agrees that this is a time to increase taxes once they've learned how deep the cuts are going to be.

You can give balancing the state budget a try on MPR's website: The Budget Balancer

Okay, one more thing, we just found out we'll be paying part of our health insurance premium to help cover a 40% increase in insurance costs that came on top of our other budget shortfalls. Personally, I wouldn't mind paying more for my own health insurance if I thought it was going to help pay for those who can't pay into the system right now because of health problems or for those who can't afford it. It doesn't work that way, though, does it? And with Bush in office, I'm not holding my breath for any useful healthcare reform, either.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Life is already a struggle, why make it more difficult?

I decided that it was not a good thing to let the start of the war pass by without a comment. Yesterday was too depressing for words, but I'll try. After visiting my cousin and her son in the ICU at Children's Hospital where he's been in critical condition for three weeks recovering from surgery and infection, I emerged to radio reports that Bush had started bombing Iraq. I had a difficult time transitioning from the image of this child in a teenager's body (he's autistic and severely mentally disabled) with more tubes going into and out of him than I have ever seen in someone before and his mother who is struggling to keep a roof over both their heads due to his many problems, to the idea of America at war with a distant country filled with people struggling to feed themselves and to get the most basic medical care. Bush's vision of the world seems completely at odds with and at the same time irrelevant to what is really happening.
Conversation this evening:

"...So it translates it into this pigden French."
"Yeah, pigden."
"You mean pidgin."
"No, pigden."
"No, it's pidgin. They used it in my Chinese history books all the time."
"No, you're wrong, it's pronounced pigden."
"You've got the g and d switched around."
"No, you're wrong. Get a dictionary... No, not that crappy dictionary, my dictionary."
"You asked for a dictionary. That's a dictionary."
"I asked for my dictionary."
"You said a dictionary."
"My dictionary."
"What? It's going to have words mispelled? Just look it up."
"There's no pigden."
"Look under pidgin."
Pause. "No, wait...I'll get a real dictionary."
"What? You thinks it's going to be spelled differently?"
"No, but it has more words."

"There's no pigden."
"I told you."
"No, no, you said pigden not pidgin. Pidgen."
"I said pidgin. You said pigden."
"There's a word pigden. There has to be a word pigden."

Thursday, March 20, 2003

I just want to say on behalf of nonprofit techies everywhere, thank you, thank you Microsoft for making my life so much easier by phasing out downloads for the only updated Internet Explorer browser version, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 SP2, that works with Windows 95. You made things even better by not incuding the phase out notice anywhere in the download or Internet Explorer parts of the site. Searches for Internet Explorer 5.5 on your site came up with nothing yesterday. Hello, Netscape 6!

Friday, March 14, 2003

Richard reminded me that my favorite episode of the Twilight Zone, The Hunt, was on cable a few nights ago. It's the one about the coon hunting dog and his master. Poor Burt the dog needed to go out, but I made him wait until they got past hell. It was only a couple of minutes. I'm just a sentimental, dog-loving girl.
I got some fun e-mails from some of my recent posts that I though everyone might like to see, so I took the plunge and added a place for comments courtesy of the Klink Family. Please post something so I don't look like a total loser. (I guess I'm still carrying some high school-like angst.)
The National Priorities Project Database Website has a search you can do on your state to look at Federal Budget Trade-Offs. For instance, taxpayers in Minnesota will pay $110.44 million for ballistic missile defense in FY2003. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided: 33,998 children with health care. It's especially interesting in light of the devastating cuts Governor Pawlenty is proposing to balance the state budget.
I Am Big Brother

I spent the afternoon yesterday browsing porn and doing internet searches on words like anal, babes and fetish. Actually, I was setting up internet filtering software for the computer lab in our shelter. It's probably the strangest thing I've ever had to do for Simpson. I'd already tried two shareware programs and found they didn't meet our needs. I was looking for something free (or very cheap) since we're facing a $100,000 budget deficit this fiscal year and that would use a filter instead of a site blocker. I also didn't want to wait any longer to hook up the shelter computers to our DSL line. The program I'm using has a built in list of words it screens for, everything from weapons and drugs to adult content and porn. I took about sixty words off the list because I wanted shelter guests to be able to access medical information and information on STDs and drug abuse. All of this effort is mainly to keep computer browsing in compliance with our no porn policy. I thought that there'd be other words on the "bad" pages that would screen those pages out, but I was wrong. When I started doing searches with the removed words, I'd get an eyeful about every other page in a Google search. Take the word incest for instance. Because a number of the women I worked with in the women's shelter (and probably a number of the men, too) were victims of childhood abuse, I wanted them to be able to access online support information for survivors. With incest removed from the filter, about every third page was porn. Drawing on the descriptive information so nicely provided on these pages, I tried expanding the filtered word index with phrases like "father daughter incest"and the ever popular "family incest." In the end, it looks like it's just going to be easier to include incest in the filter and unblock specific support sites. So far, I've had to add about eight of the words back onto the list and I'm only through the "i"s.

All of this censorship is warring with my freedom of speech tendencies, although I totally understand the shelter staff point of view. We usually have over seventy people in the shelter during dinner including children. The computer lab is in the dining room and very visible. We don't want anyone walking by or sitting nearby to get any unpleasant surprises. Originally, I planned on having people sign an acceptable computer use agreement before they could browse, but with only two or three staff on each evening we don't have anyone to monitor use. You figure out of 46 shelter guests a night and 80-120 on bed lottery nights, someone is going to look for porn or something equally offensive. Right now, I'm glad I'm not a librarian and dealing with this issue in an organization whose mission is to provide access to information for all people.

The filter itself, We Blocker, slows the computer down, often to a stall, when searching on iffy subjects. It doesn't appear to have an effect when you search on anything else. The program also lists all the websites browsed so I can check and make sure nothing's slipping through. Once I've got this computer set up, I'm going to have to copy the settings to five more PCs. So far, my vocabulary hasn't been expanded since the sites tend to be pretty unimaginative in their use of language. I did figure out that all someone needs to do to circumvent the filter is to use foreign language words for their search. I've already asked staff for a list of Spanish words to filter. The horror! The horror!

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Here's a very Minnesota poem by Robert Grenier. (Thanks Alan for showing it to me.)


Magnus massive
Dagny Dagny calling
call me call me

lazy prairie icy
streams, nicely
nicely nicely nicely Norwegians

vell I, well I
vell I, vell I
snowy vell I
vell I don't know

oh vell I, oh well, I
well I don't know
oh, vell, I don't know

Ah yah
ah, yah
a sod hut

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Sheryl Fred has an interesting article, Postwar Profiteers, about who stands to gain by war with Iraq and their ties to the Republican party at Capitol Eye.
I got this from a friend...

Upcoming Twin Cities Anti-War Event and a Joke

A Funeral Service for the Not-Yet-Dead in War. Gather at the St. Paul Cathedral for a brief interfaith service of prayer and a procession to the State Capitol at 2pm, Sunday March 16. Sponsored by Urban clergy and Churches, ISAIAH Church-based organizing clergy, Islamic Center of Minnesota and others. The demonstrators will show concern for all who might be killed, including: U.S. troops and civilians, Iraqi troops and civilians, British troops and civilians, Israelis and Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Africans, Indians, and others who will die of hunger, homelessness, polluted water and air as a result of money spent on this war instead of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and protecting the earth plus...

a little sad but true humor...

The U.N. asks President Bush: "What proof do you have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?"
Bush replies: "We kept the receipts"

Monday, March 10, 2003

Has anyone not seen the resignation letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell from career diplomat, John Brady Kiesling? If so, here's a link. It's interesting reading.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

We have volunteer dinner groups come in each night to the shelter to prepare and serve dinner. The groups plan and purchase the food themselves. On lottery nights, when we give away the shelter beds in a drawing, they can serve up to 120 people, but most nights it's about 55 people. It saves us over $60,000 every year in food costs. Part of my job is to greet the groups a few nights a week and provide tours for anyone who is new. Most of the groups are from churches, but we also have families, scout troups, businesses and other organizations. Last month I was interested to see that the high school a few blocks from my house had signed up for a meal. When they came, I gave them a short run down on what we do and then a tour. It was a large, enthusiastic group, which makes my job more fun. After I was sure they were all set for the meal. I said good-bye. They'd signed up for a couple more dates, so I knew I'd see them again.

We got a call last week from the teacher who helps set-up the meals. Someone had seen an article in the paper about the death of one of the shelter guests they'd spoken with the night they'd served dinner. She'd been found out under an overpass and had probably died of exposure after drinking with some friends. The woman, Flora, had made a big impression on a few of the kids and they were pretty upset. Since I was going to be meeting the group anyways, I said that I would talk to them a little about death and homelessness. I've always thought it was important to be honest with teenagers about the reality that many of the people we work with face whether it's drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, violence. The life expectancy for someone who is homeless is around 56, if I remember my statistics correctly. Flora was right about that age. So, I talked about all of that and then asked if they wanted to take some time to share some thoughts or maybe have a moment of silence for Flora. We'll be remembering her again at the annual memorial service next December and I invited all of them to that. Two of the girls had written something they wanted to share. The gist of what they said was, "We came here to do a good thing. We thought we'd be making a difference for some of the people staying here. We met Flora, who was a wonderful, interesting person. She took time to share some of her life with us. She had much more of an impact on us than we had on her. Now she's gone but we'll never foget her."
Ms. Bond pointed out that the below phenomenom actually has a name, Street Light Interference, and that there are discussions of it going on all over the 'net. (Check out her 1:29 p.m. March 4th entry for many, many links - is she the queen of blogsters or what?!) So, I'm not alone, but am I one of many bored, paranoid people or is it just part of the squirrel conspiracy?

Monday, March 03, 2003

I've been conducting a study of sorts over the last three months on my effect on streetlights. This fall I noticed that lights were going out frequently just as I passed them or approached them in my car. I think it's always happened, but I just decided to pay attention to it. Since I don't normally get out of work until after 7:30 p.m., I've had a lot of night driving to watch. I've been averaging three to five streetlight shut offs per week, sometimes with more than one in an evening. It's happened on the freeway and on back streets, and in different parts of the Twin Cities. Once in a while, it's the same streetlight but often it's one further down the street or around the corner. Twice it was a stoplight that shut off. I wondered if it could be my car and not me, but then I noticed it happening when I was a passenger in someone else's car. It's even happened a few times when I was out walking the dog. It reminded me of the problems my grandmother has with watches. Any watch that she's worn stops working within a short period of time whether it's a wind up or battery run. The watch just dies. I always thought it must be some sort of magnetic field she's giving off. Do magnetic fields affect streetlights? Could they be hereditary?