Category Archives: social and anti

Emergency Response and CERT

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Here’s my graduating class in CERT.

With the fires raging in Northern California and the other recent natural disasters that have affected and afflicted countless people , I hear the questioning rising. Why wasn’t there more help given faster? Why didn’t notifications work better? Whose responsibility are these matters and what do we have a government for, if it has no role in on-the-ground protection of the citizens?

There’s an old tradition lodged in the minds of many Americans, that somehow the organized governmental agencies and their hierarchical structures are somehow less valid and less effective than the Minuteman approach. I think I still hear echoes of this. We certainly hear heart-warning stories mixed in among the tragedies, about untrained souls who rise to the challenge of disaster and save not only themselves but neighbors, or strangers. Wonderful stories to lift us a little in the midst of destruction, suffering and loss.

But what we come back to is that the structures do have a place, the organized, governmental agencies are life-saving. The firefighters who had to spend their time assisting evacuees instead of fighting the fires are to be praised, even if we can also wonder, why wasn’t there another group, more professionals whose job it might be to evacuate while the fire fighters fight flames. We can go in to the economic issues at the heart of this balance, or imbalance, but that’s not where I mean to go right now.

Clearly the systems of notification and spreading the alarm at need aren’t fast enough, or clear enough. Would that we had better tie-ins to satellite imagery so that evacuees don’t get mistaken directions about how to flee. A lot of us have signed up for the local alarms to be sent to our phones, which is a great first step. But what about, as in this case for so much of Santa Rosa, it’s night time and our phones are silenced into sleep mode, or actually turned off? What if we have taken a sleep aid to gain some restful sleep, a dose that will leave us slumbering? Then we depend upon our neighbors, and the night owl who had insomnia and checked her or his phone and read the first outburst of warnings.

I know from anecdotes gleaned from some of our past local fires, that what we expect of government agencies, police, firefighters, and such is often not what they are capable of doing. They cannot reach into every home simultaneously and snatch us to safety. A lot of our alerting system functions by luck.

Could this be addressed? Are there places where a siren should be mounted for such extreme alarms to be sounded? Perhaps. This may be a question for neighborhoods and townships, especially as our global climate shifts and displays a brutal temper.

But there are some ways to be prepared, there’s information to be gained and employed, that can at least train you how to be a part of the response, not the problem. What we sometimes forget in our Minuteman zeal is that when professionals are present, part of our best action is to stay out of the way. Too passive a reaction? Then may I suggest CERT training?

About a year ago I heard of an opportunity to take the free CERT course at the nearby University. I signed up and showed up and spent the next few days being informed, learning how to work as a team with strangers, and learning a good deal of humility.

Let’s be honest, I consider myself quick to think, adept at adapting, fairly bossy and pre-apted for command. (Yes, immodest too.) But the lessons put me in a different frame of mind, and made me, I hope, a far better team player, willing to shift my ground to fit what the larger need demands, and what my associates request.

Plus, I had a great time. This class with all of its lessons was fun. The other students had such different backgrounds and strengths. I had to change and think and learn, and we all made mistakes. Some of our mistakes killed imaginary people. Just like a war game, or a computer game– remember the companion cube? Anyway. let me recommend this exercise and the CERT experience. At the end of the day, you will have a better sense of what others can do for you and what you can do for them, and when you are the civilian running for help, you’ll have a far better concept of what help you can hope for, and how to ask in the most clear and speedy fashion. Plus you will also know what kinds of things you may have to fix yourself, so you waste no time waiting for a helping hand.

Even if you have some disability, or like me, are entering the ranks of senior citizens, knowledge is a weapon, a language, a map for your road.

At the end of a bad day, maybe we all need to be ready to be Minutemen.

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Post SBWC 2017

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The above photo represents what I came home to, and with, after the writers conference.

After six days of intense interaction, and staying up late after rising early, I’m back at home feeling rather odd. What happens when you put a collection of mainly introverted writers in small rooms and invite them to help each other? Wonders, that’s what.

Yes, I went through strangely lonely and dark periods during the writers conference. I panicked I’d lost my touch, that I couldn’t see well enough to put one word after another in a worthy fashion. I heard marvelous, apparently perfect works by my fellow writers, and I doubted. I felt out of step, not so much with others, although that happened sometimes, but with my self. I was afraid I’d mislaid or damaged my writing voice. I felt like that person at a party who has no one to talk with, standing not quite part of any group, but trying to pretend he is, who keeps a smile on his lips because to do otherwise is to be pitiful, and to fall that low, is too far.

Terrifying the silence when you finish reading and you hear not a single response. You rearrange the sheets of your paper and all you can hear is them sliding on the polished wood of the conference table. Was I clear, did I commit cliches, or is even the action in my short story so obscure that no one dares begin a critique– oh hell, was I even speaking English? It’s two AM and what do I imagine I’m doing here? That man over there is yawning.

It’s terrifying to feel that other creators are trying to be kind–but they see you haven’t kept and nurtured the gift. It’s horrid to feel they lean over and speak the encouraging word because they are reflecting their own hearts, not any quality of yours.

I have been trying to create my whole life. That’s nice; we all know it’s a long apprenticeship. But what some part of my monkey brain forgot was this– a writer’s conference is never about you. Nor your work. It’s about the community of writers. I didn’t go in to win anything– I did at least understand that, long before the conference began,  but I did go in to regain my footing. That was my error– the wrong goal.

The goal? It’s to engage in the purpose of helping everyone regain his or her footing. I rediscovered that at last. By helping others, I began to see my own way. I started then to really hear what was said and made and shared. There is a rhythm to creation and sharing, and since creativity is meant for communication, there is a need to step deep into that shifting tide. No dabbling at the edge in the froth. For writers and artists there is an infinity ahead of making, and what that takes is humility and hard work together. This is not the time for selfish doubts, for in-turning.

Introverts or not, now, we break barriers. We swim, far out of our depth.

I am swamped with sensations of loneliness and encouragement, with a gratitude to all my fellow travelers that thickens my voice, with a sense of loss, because I now sit alone. But that may be the biggest mistake. I don’t sit alone.

Now to work, while the remembered voices of friends sound in my brain, while their kindness and engagement glow in my mind. Enough light at last, to let me see my way.

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Peace on Earth

So the kid arrived home with her little new dog and this is what happened in the first forty minutes.

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And no, this dog came from the shelter and so far as anyone knows has never socialized with a cat before. And yes, this is our most difficult cat of four, who chummed with no one but his old, and most sadly now deceased friend Porthos, a feral black cat.  This golden tabby cat is Daft Wee Willie Wilberforce and we’ve had him thorough terrible health problems, mainly genetic. We’ve had WWW since he was seven weeks, so we know no dogs were in his past. He was a bullying sort of little friend to Porthos who was older and doted upon him and excused his vagaries. Porthos was a wonderful fellow, he would gaze with melting affection in his big green eyes upon this little kitten in his care and wash the little rascal with tenderness. When Porthos died, WWW became very depressed, so we acquired a five year old male cat, then some months later two bonded kittens.

Willie had difficulties accommodating our new three cats and so when he walked right into the lap that held this little new dog, we held our breaths and wondered if we ought to interfere! Guess not. It’s been about ten days and for all we can fantasize, WWW imagines that the little black dog is some oddly mis-made reincarnation of his dear old friend Porthos. After all, we excuse our dear friends a lot of oddities. Coming back as a dog is okay– the point is you came back….

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An Extra Note: Compostables and Not

Warning– this is a post that includes cleaning, garbage, purity, diapers and a rant. It’s not about Ramsey Canyon and what we saw… I will get to that after the clean up.

We hosted our Earth Sciences Department party yesterday and about seventy people attended. We prepared and cooked racks of ribs, slabs of salmon, fresh breads and vegetarian beans while our guests provided all kinds of vegetable and salad dishes, plus plenty of drinkables. I baked nine pies– apples from our orchard, grapes from our vines for the grape pies, boysenberries from the neighbor’s baked into a pie, and one huge four layer boysenberry filled cake with a cream cheese frosting. I probably should not tell how many packages of cream cheese I peeled for that job!

On such occasions we try to do our bit for sustainability, with designated bins for recyclables, and bins lined with the right type of compostable bag to take the compostable plates and utensils plus food waste, which we will later deliver to the processing center. A separate batch of bins stand ready for the non-compostables– paper napkins and waxed paper goods or whatever plastics people wrapped their contributions in.

So, this is a group of people who have spent their lives being students. Yet despite clear labeling on these bins, every year, the morning after finds me in my much-reused latex gloves sorting the garbage because somehow people can’t read those labels. But this year brought an even more disturbing variant.

I met single-serving squeezable plastic/foil baby food units. All “pure”, “organic” food in plasticized squeeze containers, one serving each. To be precise, plastic-covered foil pouches none of which is recyclable. The plastic lids are very large, and recyclable. I found two of these with their lids deep in our bin labeled ‘Compostables’. If you detect a hint of offense in my tone, you are so correct. I am worried about the parent who chooses to buy pure organic food for his or her baby in such a package. That you might absentmindedly throw it in exactly the wrong container is one of those things that can easily happen by mistake. But you do not choose single serving disposable aluminum and plastic pouches without shelling out a good bit of cash and having some time to select and think. So you want organic purity for your baby? Great. But what’s the impact of this choice? How could this company not have thought further in producing these expensive and wasteful items? Pure, organic and plastic present me with a serious disconnect.

I went to the website for this product and they claim that their containers have recyclable lids– well that’s just great! Indeed, they made the lids bigger in order to make them recyclable! Next, they say the production of one of their containers has a smaller environmental footprint than that of a glass bottle– but you often have the option to choose multiple serving sized glass bottles, which could change that equation. More, I am not sure if they are saying that only the original processing to produce a glass jar is more costly and if they have calculated the incalculable recycling in the lifetime of the glass jar? Or do they mean that the environmental cost of recycling the glass is greater than the environmental cost of production for each of their one-use pouches? With foil involved? This, I doubt. I also note that a glass bottle is composed of the third most common element on our planet — silica makes up ~15% of Earth. If the glass ends up back in the soil, it changes none of the chemistry of that soil. Plastics are manufactured materials that do not readily decompose, and have consequences in their smaller particulate form after years of disaggregation, for all animals, including us.

Yes, I understand that caring for a baby is a lot of work. I did it too, cloth diapers (and a diaper service as much as possible because at the end of the equation – sterilizing and washing all your own is more costly to the environment than using a diaper service.) I made baby food at home, except for times we travelled and I had to use bottled baby food. But the bottles and lids of what I bought were all recyclable. The glass meant a stable container with no risk of container molecules separating into the food, even acidic food.

I know a majority of my audience here is not having babies right now, but this isn’t just about baby food. It’s about thinking. I think that what I want to ask is that we try not to have that single serving plastic disposable choice be every day’s choice. No one likes a sermon much, especially when it asks for something, so I’ll return to my soggy gloves and my garbage sort.

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Listen, and you may hear

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Do I have a tale to tell? Yes I do. But I will vex you with being slow in telling, a quilt pattern rather than a cogent solid story. Teasers, rather than complete essays.

My husband and I picked up the kid in Phoenix where she is in grad school and headed to our first vacation in over twenty years– Ramsey Canyon. I here post a couple of photos, but bear with me… there is more to tell. I have a dinner to cook for October 1 (between 70 and 100 guests and yeah, yet again, I don’t hire caterers.) So be patient, there’s more to come.

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A Brief Episode

We were in a store in the little city when we heard car horns tooting, as though more than one driver might be angry. One of the shop clerks, a skinny young man, hurried outside. When we went out we found three people in the stream of traffic, (and this is a four-lane section of divided city street,) trying to reach and comfort a scared white poodle-type dog. He finally came to ground between the legs of one woman in the street– she and our clerk brought him to the shore, and thence into the store where he could be kept safe until arrangements might be made. Scared middle-sized dog, a couple years old I’d guess, but apparently no collar or identifying materials which makes me fear he was discarded by someone not worthy of the name ‘human’. But the people who stepped into a dangerous situation and controlled it with authority and compassion, and reassured a frightened animal full of panic, deserve all the praise I can give.

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How to Choose your College

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Having just returned from a couple of recruitment events on behalf of the University of California, Santa Barbara, I am full of the delight of talking with bright motivated candidates for admission to the fall quarter. But I am also mindful of errors in education I have seen, and made myself, and I have a couple of ideas to offer about how a young person, with a handful of congratulatory admissions in hand, might think about where to go for four years of challenge, before responding to those delicious offers.

First of all, remember that it doesn’t make that much difference which one you attend. The university name isn’t going to bring you glory, not as an undergraduate. (As a graduate student where you go becomes far more important.) It depends on how you attend. Are you getting a degree to check a box in your projected career or are you off on a voyage of discovery and adventure? Don’t miss the long view because the ivy blinded you.

You want a community, a place that you feel will help you grow as a person and a scholar. Go see the possibilities, smell the air, see if folk are friendly. Ask about competition in the classroom, in research, in politics and popularity. You can actually find a campus that’s just like high school, alas. A place where everyone postures to seem more blasé and sophisticated than everyone else, surprised at nothing, assuming that means some kind of win. In my estimation, that is not what college is supposed to be about. Or you can find institutions that don’t look to give the student a broad experience, that narrow down the choices to a safe unchallenging world view with nice walls firm on their foundations. I object to that too.

Undergraduate experience is personal, it matters that the fit is right. If you love a cut-throat atmosphere and it makes you thrive, go for it. If you would rather spend less time watching your back and more time pushing the boundaries of science or art or writing to create the future we all can share, go somewhere that has an emphasis on the fact that we can work together to thrust back the forces of ignorance. If you are driven, excited about possibilities, we’ll all meet up at the end.

A lot goes in to that sense of a good fit, because after all, a college or university should make you uncomfortable. It should make you stretch, far beyond your comfort zone. You should experience failure there, as well as triumph. You should go hungry for fresh thoughts and ideas, concepts and explorations. You go to be challenged in your assumptions, in your conclusions, in your accumulated wisdom. You go to college or university to find out what you don’t know, and all the questions that no one has answers to,  material that unsettles and roils the mind. To plant a field, you need to harrow it first, and that’s a big part of what college needs to do with you. So when you look remember that you want a diverse student body who do not all believe the same things. You want this diversity in faculty and staff as well, an institution that allows these disparate ideas to be heard, and you want to listen to all the voices, even though they may upset and anger you. An education will teach you about things you might prefer to ignore or deny, but that is the point. You should never have to believe everything you hear or are taught, but you do need to know what those things are. I have never seen ignorance protect a single soul from anything. Not in the plowed field, nor in a musty library, nor yet in the streets of the city.

Don’t go to college to look good. Don’t aim low. Go willing to look foolish, to ask dumb questions– because at the end of the day you may have a graying professor scratching her head and saying–“I never thought about it that way before– you just opened a real can of worms.” Go to class–yeah, many big classes don’t take attendance so you can skip lectures. Many kids do. But if you do, you will be like the fellow who goes in to an expensive restaurant and pays for the meal, but walks out without eating it. Such a person is by any measure a fool.

I hope you don’t have to work while in college. Work will expect you to give it your all. Trouble is, so will the university. It is like being married to two people at the same time and trying to uphold the needs of two households, children included. Daycare, parent conferences, doctor’s appointments, quarrels, peace-making, holidays that conflict. It is brutal trying to make both things succeed as each deserves. Better if you can pick the less expensive school if that might allow you to do the learning with a whole soul. An education isn’t a trivial entertainment, it’s hard work, done right, and why would you want to waste your time doing it less than the right?

Go to office hours– there’s no one more desperate for company than the lonely professor waiting in his or her or their office waiting for office hours to be over. Ask professors what they’re working on. All of them have research projects ongoing, and those projects are things they love. You may not yet know, looking at colleges now, that half, or even more, of what professors do isn’t  focused on teaching, nor should it be. They are daily fighting on the frontiers of knowledge and understanding through their research, and that struggle is where the power of their teaching gains its edge to cut deep. Maybe you’ll catch this enthusiasm– the greatest gift of all. But if that doesn’t happen, when it comes time that you need a recommendation for your future job or graduate school, those professors with whom you sat and talked will actually remember who you were, out of the sea of faces in lecture, and be able to write an insightful recommendation because you bothered to go and meet them face to face, and let them know who you really are. Too many times a professor is faced with a young person saying “I need a recommendation for med school and I just loved your class. I got an ‘A’ in it.” The professor looks at the stranger’s face and lamely says, “Well, let me see. Can you tell me something about yourself…?”

And here’s one more thought. When you arrive on your campus, remember that no one knows you. Yes, that’s intimidating, but it also means that this is one of those magical opportunities to rewrite your script. If the first thing you do is a face plant in the flower bed with everyone watching, you’re free to spring up with a laugh because no one at this new school knows you’re not the funniest, friendliest, kindest, happiest soul in the world. You can choose to be that person you always wished to become. Leave all accidents of pretension behind, (haven’t we all memories like that which make us cringe,) forget arrogance, and be inviting, be generous. Open your doors to the finest in others, too, and pick companions, fellow musketeers who make you learn and grow and try harder, because the prize isn’t the degree, but the self you make in these years, that self which is the only company you are guaranteed for life. Create your highest self, allow yourself some of the wonderful things you never felt you could express before.

Bon voyage, friends.

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