Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Defending The Unemployed

In the last week or so, I've been surprised by the amount of grumbling I've heard about unemployment benefits. A lot of folks are disappointed and dismayed by the extension of unemployment benefits that provide coverage, in some cases, for as long as 99 weeks.

Those who are upset by the additional payouts put forth a strong case for their opposition. They are correct in saying that we, as a nation, can hardly afford it. It is fact that extending eligibility those additional weeks will make for a staggering increase in an already burgeoning--and frightening national debt.

I respect the understandable position of those opposed, but I come down on the side of the proponents of the legislation last week that provided for the additional benefits. I see the issue in the light of compassion and common sense.

How do we turn our backs on millions of Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own, and for whom there will be no jobs until we climb out of the great recession? While nearly ten percent of the country is unemployed, some ninety percent of the population does have a job. Nine out of ten Americans are blessed with employment, and they, "but for the grace of God", could be the one out of ten. Can't nine Americans help a tenth countryman through hard times?

It's important to remember, also, that when congress extended benefits for the unemployed, legislators also extended tax breaks for the super rich. That begs another question. Will the super rich put their windfall monies back into the economy? Most certainly, those on unemployment will--just to survive.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Heroes Twice Over

Last week, one of our readers alerted us to an article, about organ donations, that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times. Recalling columns we have written on the subject, our reader correctly thought that the story might be of interest. Subsequently, we found it covered, also, by the Stars and Stripes newspaper, and the Associated Press.

All Americans who are killed while defending our country are heroes; and some, who give their lives, give again after their deaths. Over the last five years, some three dozen soldiers, killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, have donated a total of 141 organs--saving approximately four people each, after their own deaths.

Due to time constraints, precluding the transport of organs from combat zones to destinations as far away as North America, the donated organs were made available to desperately ill people in Europe. Here in America, countless members of the military, at bases throughout the country, are on record as organ donors.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Googling Your Way To Better Health

In the last few weeks, I've come to look upon an apple or a banana as I occasionally look upon a favorite song.

Sometimes I listen to a tune I love over and over--until finally I feel a need to take a break and listen to something else. It's that way now with both apples and bananas. I've always enjoyed them, and I know that they are good for me, but I just have a hankering to try something else until, like that favorite song, I get the urge to have them again.

And so I went looking for something that was both a healthy substitute and reasonably appetizing. Such a search is easy in today's world. Finding an answer for anything is just a google away. I went to a number of websites, including mypyramid.gov and fruitsandveggiesmatter.com.

It didn't take long to come up with something exciting, that sent me off to the market--to pick up blueberries. I knew that fresh blueberries would be expensive, but I knew also, from my research, that frozen blueberries were more moderately priced, and tasted just as good, and might be even healthier.

The blueberries turned out to be a wonderful change of pace--great for snacking and a colorful, tasty addition to my whole wheat Total in the morning. And as for being a healthy choice, I found an interesting online comparison to apples.

The old adage, "an apple a day keeps the Doctor away", may well have some truth to it, but blueberries have even more nutritional value. Fiber, antitoxidents, and a variety of vitamins make blueberries a jackpot of nutrition.

How easy it is, and how much fun it can be, to add a little more variety to your diet. You can literally google yourself to better health.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big Surprises Among The Big Spenders

The Billionaires Club is a wonderful story. The effort by some of our wealthiest citizens to raise $600. billion for charities is big news, and the message they send in pledging half of their fortunes to worthwhile causes makes the story all the more important.

There are also, however, other equally interesting stories about philanthropy in America. One of those is The Giving Back Fund, a charitable organization that encourages philanthropy--seeking to increase the amount of giving, and seeking to increase transparency in giving.

The Giving Back Fund uses public records to compile an annual list of the most generous celebrities in America The most recent list has same names near the top that surprise me, and, perhaps, may be a surprise to you.

Some of the names I could have guessed would be there--Barbra Streisand, Brad Pitt, Oprah, Michael Jordan. But Rush Limbaugh? Maybe its my dislike for his polarizing commentary, but whatever, I would never have guessed that he would be among the ten most generous celebrities. And how about Mel Gibson? His recent escapades don't exactly portray him as a compassionate, caring person. Yet there he is in the top ten.

Seeing the late Paul Newman on the list is not at all surprising, but seeing him there at number one--after his death--is, for me, a surprise. His giving continues after his death through the Newman's Only Foundation. All net profits and royalties from the sale of Newman's Own products go to the Newman's Own Foundation, and to date, Newman's Own Foundation has given $295. million to charities around the world. Newman's Own food products hit the marketplace in 1982, and Newman's Own was one of the first food companies to use all natural ingredients.

In addition to being a great actor, Paul Newman was an astute businessman, whose business acumen was in evidence long before he started Newman's Own. I came across an article about his early years, which related how--while still in college--Paul Newman opened a laundromat. To encourage students to bring in their dirty clothes, he gave away a free beer with every machine load.

Referring to the act of giving, Paul Newman once said, "The need is great-and so is the effort to make a difference".

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Voice Of Reason

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is the wealthiest politician in America, but he didn't get that way by being Mayor. He had amassed his fortune prior to entering public service.

Michael Bloomberg is also one of the most generous politicians in America. He is a member of The Billionaires Club, and has put in writing his pledge to give half of his wealth to charity--during his lifetime or upon his death.

And there is one more thing worth noting about Michael Blomberg. He just might be the wisest politician in America; for as the debate over the Muslim community center near ground zero rages on, the Mayor continues to keep his cool, while most other politics are ranting and raving for political gain.

Last night, during a dinner party at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor was referring to the current controversy, when he reminded the gathering that "there are people of good will on both sides of the debate". He then added, "We in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims; and above that, we are Americans.....there is nowhere that is off limits to any religion".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finding Hope In A Tree....

Yesterday, in the Netherlands, a 170-year old chestnut tree, diseased and almost completely hollow, finally fell down. The loss of a single, solitary tree is seldom a newsworthy event; but this was a very special tree, and its passing will be food for thought for people around the world.

It was Anne Frank's tree. It was her only link to the outside world, as she took refuge with her family in an attic hideaway during World War II. It was the only thing she could see.

Watching the tree go from season to season buoyed her spirit and gave her hope. It was something beautiful to be thankful for. She entered poignant passages in her diary about the budding of the tree just days before a betrayal resulted in Anne and her family being captured by the Nazis, and sent to their deaths in concentration camps.

Anne Frank's diary is beautifully written, and her story is a lesson in living through adversity. If you are not familiar with her story, do yourself a favor, and google Anne Frank. You will come to know why the loss of a tree is newsworthy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beware Of Hitchhikers

There are hitchhikers--and then there are hitchhikers. There's the human variety that you can pick up, and then send on their merry way, somewhere down the road. Then there's the insect variety, which are apt to stay with you a lot longer than you would like.

To be more specific, we are writing today about bedbugs--also known by pest control companies as "the hitchhiking pest". It hops a ride on your clothing, and then stays there long after your clothes have been removed.

Why you ask? What makes a story about bedbugs newsworthy? Why would anyone of sound mind want to write--or read--about bedbugs?

Well, before you scratch us off your list of the blogs that you read, please allow us a few more moments, so as to explain.

We came across a story, which we know, in advance, is not one you will enjoy. But this story contains information that is good to know, and should be passed along.

According to the National Pest Management Association, statistics reveal that the problem with bedbugs has nearly doubled in the last decade. A survey of pest control companies found that 76 percent of those questioned listed bedbugs as the most difficult pest to treat and control.

Now this is where the story gets a little scary. Cleanliness is not a factor in preventing and controlling infestation by bedbugs; and contrary to conventional wisdom, motels are no more likely to have bedbugs, than a five-star resort, or a laundromat, or a movie theater. It is this fact--that bedbugs can be picked up almost anywhere--which gives the bedbug its nickname, "the hitchhiking pest".

Then there is the item in the story that is so surprising, that it had us checking out its accuracy. It's this item, this fact, which makes the story newsworthy.

Bedbugs, which thrive on human blood, nevertheless can amazingly live for up to a year, in semi-hibernation, without eating anything--no blood, no nothing! During that time, a female bedbug can produce up to 400 offspring. Little wonder then that the creepy critters are so hard to get rid of.

Bedbugs do have natural enemies that attack them; but neither of these predators--cockroaches or spiders--is a welcome solution. So what can be done? First, google "bedbugs" to make yourself as well informed as possible on the subject. Then carefully select an insecticide to solve a minor problem. Consulting a pest control company may be necessary for a major infestation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Organ Donation -- A Global Issue

As we discuss and debate social issues, it is interesting and often helpful to look beyond our borders and see what is happening elsewhere. In today's world, it is likely that a social issue getting attention here, is also big news in other countries around the world.

We devoted an earlier column to Australia's efforts to encourage organ donations. The government there has recruited the aid of an organ donor's widow to that end. Because her husband had the foresight to make certain he was properly registered, his organs and tissue are credited with saving TEN lives.

Yesterday, we related how legislation has been introduced in New York state to provide organ donor information--a yes or no--on driver licenses and state I.D. cards.

Following that blog, a reader in India posted a comment to advise us that the government there has already made organ donor information mandatory on all required forms such as driver licenses.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Billionaires Go Public!

Whoa! Hold it right there! Today's column is another installment in what has become a series of stories about "The Billionaires Club"; and in the event you have missed the earlier editions, we would like to urge you to read those earlier editions--before reading this article.

That's easy to do. At the bottom of this article are the words "Labels - The Billionaires". Simply click on to the word Billionaires, and those earlier editions will appear on your screen.

Our first Billionaires column, back on June 18, ended with the suggestion to "Stay Tuned". And just as we thought it would, The Billionaires story has become more and more interesting. It all began with tantalizing tales of hush-hush meetings of America's super rich; and then the story began to catch fire--fueled by the rampant rumors and the wild speculation of a doubting, but all-the-while intrigued national media.

It has all seemed too incredible to be true--billionaires uniting in an effort to raise $600. billion for charity, and in the process changing forever the way that the wealthiest of our citizens look at how, and to what extent, they help those less fortunate. And what makes it all the more unbelievable is the timing--during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

But truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction; and all doubts were removed in the last few days--for The Billionaires Club has now gone public! Yep, there he was, Monday morning on CNN--billionaire businessperson and philanthropist, Lorry Lokey--confirming the existence and purpose of The Billionaires Club. A self-made billionaire, Mr. Lokey's philanthropic efforts favor education--financial gifts to schools. And that is something very special about The Billionaires Club. A pledge is made to give away at least half of total net worth, during lifetime or at death; but each billionaire can direct his or her giving to the charity or charities of choice.

There are, at present, 403 billionaires in America. We have seen figures of 24 and 40 as to the number of billionaires who have thus far committed themselves to the effort, and have made the pledge. Among those already on board are some household names, such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, Paul Allen, and Michael Bloomberg. And how about Oprah, you ask? No--at least, not yet.


In billionaire circles, this philanthropic effort is being called
"The Giving Pledge". In journalistic jargon, this story has legs. Stay tuned

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Home Van

There are a number of large national organizations that help the homeless--in a variety of wonderful ways. The Salvation Army, Volunteers of America, and Family Promise are among the most effective "nonprofits". There are also, in many communities, smaller and lesser known, but equally effective groups of homeless advocates, who complement the work of the national organizations. It could be said that they fill the cracks in covering the needs of the homeless.

Such is a group of friendly folks in Gainesville, Florida. For the last eight years, this band of volunteers has operated a local, independent homeless advocacy program known as "The Home Van". Organized, and still directed by Arupa Freeman, The Home Van program stresses close, continuing contact with those they help. They have come to know, that to those who are homeless, time and conversation are gifts as important as food and the other neessities of life.

When The Home Van goes on what is called a "drive out", the van usually visits four locations, where the volunteers distribute soup, sandwiches, other non-perishable food, toiletries, clothing, blankets and whatever else has been donated. Volunteers then listen to the special needs of their homeless friends.

The Home Van operation is funded entirely by donations; neither requesting nor receiving government assistance. There is no one involved with The Home Van who receives any payment or compensation. Should you be of a mind to help, I will happily provide you with contact information.

Last year, while in Gainesville for speaking engagements, I was invited to go on a "drive out" with the home van. I documented that experience in an editorial which appeared in The Gainesville Sun on April 13, 2009. That editorial follows below.....

WILLIAM LANEY; THE HOME VAN SPECIAL

It was a Thursday afternoon, a few weeks back; the first day of my first visit to Gainesville. I had just arrived at the home of Arupa and Bob Freeman, when I was followed through the door by a lady named Ann Marie. She was toting a container of chili; five gallons worth. Soon came Liz, with pans of corn bread, and then Katey, and Bill, and other volunteers who are part of an effort to help the homeless called "The Home Van". I had heard about it from Gainesville resident, Dr. Malcolm Sanford, while traveling on a Greyhound bus. I learned that "The Home Van" has local legendary status--partially achieved during one very cold winter, when a call for help produced "the great blanket tidal wave". As one who has lived, and then written about the homeless life, I was intrigued. and I wrangled myself an invitation to tag along on a drive out. That evening, food and other necessities of life were passed out in four locations. What impressed me most was another gift that homeless persons treasure--friendship! Many of those homeless persons I met in Gainesville told me what the volunteers already knew. The fact that someone cares, and is eager to spend time socializing as equals, means more than the food and the blankets. That is what sets this effort apart from many others, and that is what makes "The Home Van" special!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Remembering Senator Byrd

This morning, when I learned of the passing of Senator Robert Byrd, I felt the deep sadness that is usually reserved for the death of a close friend or family member. But this was someone very special, and today, throughout the state of West Virginia, it would be difficult to find someone who doesn't share my sense of loss. At a time when politicians in general, and members of congress in particular, are looked upon with disdain by most Americans, Senator Byrd has remained beloved by his constituents.

For more than sixty years, he has been a representative of his people in the truest and best meaning of the word. For the past 57 years, he has promoted and protected the interests of West Virginia in Washington, first for six years in the House of Representatives, and then, for more than half a century, in the United States Senate.

Media reports of Senator Byrd's passing are full of many interesting, and a few amazing facts: He is the longest-serving member of Congress in American history; He was, at the time of his death, third in the line of succession for the Presidency; He was a historian who literally wrote the book on the U.S Senate; He was an acknowledged authority on the United States Constitution, and he always carried a copy on his person; and during his time in Washington, he secured an astounding $3 billion in federal funding for West Virginia.

But there is so much more about Senator Byrd that is not on CNN, or NPR, or in the newspapers. I guess it's what you might call "the little things" that come to mind in looking back. I have memories of Robert Byrd from my childhood--and that's really going back. I recall cardboard posters, with the candidate's picture, and a simple message, "Vote For Robert Byrd". You couldn't go anywhere without seeing one of his posters tacked to a telephone pole. That was when television was still in its infancy, and voters were reached through radio, and those posters. I remember, also, Robert Byrd, the candidate for local office, and later on, Robert Bird, the Congressional candidate, entertaining folks at political rallies with his fiddle and his country songs.

How long ago was that? Well, Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Stalin still ruled the Soviet Union. America was between wars, a brief five- year hiatus between World War II and the Korean War.

I remember the Presidential election of 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower won in a landslide, while, in West Virginia, Robert Byrd fought off the Republican coattails and became a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. I remember, too, his homespun speeches, which in everyday language, promised a better day for poverty-ridden West Virginia. And I remember, as he began to deliver and fulfill his promise; steering appropriations into West Virginia for buildings and highways and bridges. Senator Byrd became known as the "King of Pork" for his efforts in securing monies for projects in West Virginia. It was a title that he, and his constituents relished.

The Senator's accomplishments are many. He was a leading proponent of campaign finance reform, and was largely responsible for the bill's passage. He was one of only 23 Senators to vote against going to war with Iraq, warning his Senate colleagues against "blind" authorization of military action. He is credited with gathering the necessary votes for approval of the Panama Canal Treaty.

But like all people, Senator Byrd was not without fault. Early on in life he opposed the civil rights movement, and for a brief time, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He later condemned the Klan, and said that going with the crowd to join the Klan was the biggest mistake of his life. There is telling evidence of the sincerity of his regret in the fact that in 2008, he supported a man of color, Barack Obama; while the majority of the West Virginia electorate went for John McCain.

What Senator Robert Byrd will mostly be remembered for is the sum total of a lifetime of effort and accomplishment on behalf of his country and his state. America has lost a true patriot; an achieving public servant; and we, who call West Virginia "home", have lost our champion;, our friend.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Longest War

The title of this column could well refer to the present conflict in Afghanistan, which the media has been reminding us is now the longest war in American history. But no, this column is about another place, and another time, long ago, when the United States fought to a stalemate in "the forgotten war".

It was sixty years ago today, June 25, 1950; when North Korea launched the attack on South Korea that started the Korean War. At the time, I was participating in a Boy Scout summer camp, deep in the wooded mountains of West Virginia. Although I was far removed from daily newspapers, and even though there was no 24/7 news cycle back then, I accrued lasting memories, by way of the portable radios that provided a steady flow of reports. Young and old, from "Tenderfeet" to counselors, had their ears glued to those radios, as the United States responded to the invasion by coming to the aid of South Korea.

In the next three years, more than 34,000 U.S. servicemembers gave their lives in bloody, brutal battles that often included hand to hand combat. The Korean War was a success in that North Korea's attempt to put the entire Korean Peninsula under communist rule was thwarted, and as a result, the South Korea of today is a thriving democracy, with the fifteenth largest economy in the world.

Although the guns fell silent, and an armistice was signed in 1953, we are still technically at war, and tensions remain high. At present, 28,000 Americans remain on vigil to protect freedom in a far away land. It could be argued that "the forgotten war" is also the longest war.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A BP Boycott Won't Help--It Will Hurt!

A reader's comment about yesterday's column is worth further discussion. The comment posted following, "The Ripple Effect Of An Oil Spill", rightfully discourages Americans from hopping aboard the BP boycott bandwagon. Our reader reminds folks that a boycott could adversely affect BP's already free-falling stock to the point of bankruptcy, which is just about the worse thing that could happen, in that it would result in U.S. taxpayers picking up the tab for the oil spill clean-up.

There are a couple more good reasons for not boycotting BP. The BP gas stations around the country are not owned or operated by British Petroleum. BP sold those years ago; so a boycott would hurt American independent gas station owners, as well as BP. Furthermore, bankruptcy, or any further deep drop in BP stock, would hurt shareholders, of whom many are American investors, while many more are Britons whose pensions are tied to BP stock.

As hard as it is to do, we have to root for British Petroleum--not only to stay afloat, but to prosper, so that they will have both the incentive, and the ability to pay for as much of the mess they have created as possible. BP will never be able to make things right, as they have promised. The damage is too far-flung. We have to squeeze every nickel we can from BP, without putting them out of business. A boycott is not the answer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Ripple Effect Of An Oil Spill

Almost everything we do in this life has a ripple effect that can touch more people than we are aware of. There is a ripple effect to an act of kindness; and we are seeing now that there is a ripple effect to an act of greed. The Gulf oil spill was the result of a giant corporation cutting corners in order to save money. The horrendous explosion that never should have happened caused ripples that will affect countless people--some for years to come. With the death of eleven good men, a ripple went out to the families who lost a loved one--and acquired a pain that will linger with them for the rest of their lives. That brought another ripple of grief to all who are close to those families. A ripple crossed the Atlantic, affecting people in Great Britain who are unfortunate enough to have pension plans that are tied to British Petroleum stock. A ripple is now crossing the Gulf of Mexico, on its way to polluting the waters and beaches of Florida; which will take a heavy toll on the tourist business, and take away the livelihood of those who live and work in coastal areas. British Petroleum has promised to make everything right. It's a promise that will not be kept. The ripple effect of this company's greed makes that impossible.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Billionaires Club

If you are a politician, or if you are a member of the media, or if you are just a regular citizen--and you advocate a redistribution of wealth in America--you will be labeled a socialist or a communist, and you will be called a variety of other unflattering names. That is a given. But what if you are wealthy--very wealthy--and you suggest taking from the rich to help out the poor? We are about to find out.

Two of the world's wealthiest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are planning to form what can best be described as a billionaires club. Gates and Buffett, who have already pledged the bulk of their fortunes to charitable causes, hope to raise--are you ready for this?--SIX HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS, for worthwhile causes. They will make their pitch to America's 403 billionaires, hoping that publicity and peer pressure will open up fat cat wallets. There is no need to feel sorry for the billionaires who join "the club", as they will obviously retain enough wealth to allow them, and their heirs to live in luxury. This all seems unbelievable, but it is well beyond the rumor stage. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

This Morning At The Barber Shop.....

That doggone bathroom mirror of mine keeps finding something wrong, and this A.M. it told me I couldn't procrastinate any longer on getting a haircut. So after breakfast, I ambled around the corner and took my seat in Tina's no-appointments, walk-ins only, unisex barber shop. I was number four in line on arrival, and as those ahead of me got their haircuts and departed, other ladies and gentlemen came in, so that the gathering remained at four or five customers throughout my stay. No one got fidgety, and no one gave any other indication of minding the wait; and that's because there was constant chatter that was interesting enough to keep all eyes off the clock.

Eventually the conversation turned to politics, and there was no disagreement there. It was unanimous, "Throw the rascals out!" (The actual language was quite a bit saltier than that.) There was a nod of approval from one soft-spoken gentleman; before he offered a word of caution, suggesting that the electorate consider who it is that they are voting for; while considering even more carefully, what they are voting for. A young lady disagreed, saying that, whatever the issue, anyone new would be better than what we have.

With that, I couldn't resist jumping in; bringing up the primary election in Nevada, where Sharron Angle came from nowhere in recent weeks to win in a landslide; becoming the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. I put forth my opinion that those who voted for her could not possibly know what they were voting for. The young lady appeared to be somewhat agitated in responding, "I saw Sharron Angle on TV, and I am sure that whatever she does, it will be for the good of the people". I paused for a moment, wanting to choose my words carefully, so as not to offend anyone, or come off as a "know it all". I simply said, "Sharron Angle has repeated over and over that she wants to get rid of social security". For a few minutes thereafter, the silence was deafening.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kind Of Funny The Things We Remember

Ever wonder why we remember seemingly insignificant events; while it takes a reminder from someone else to recall a happening that logic says we should not have forgotten? I mulled that one over last week, after receiving an envelope of clippings from Chuck Koehler, a high school classmate. As soon as I saw Chuck's name, the memory of a long ago football game rushed front and center in my mind. It's strange how that game has stayed with me through the years, because I wasn't there. I was in attendance for a lot of exciting high school football; important games that perhaps I should remember, but do not. So what was so special about a game I didn't attend, that it would stay with me. Well, it was a Friday night game, in which my school, Triadelphia High, rallied late to nip Wellsburg High. I missed it because I had to work that evening. Next day, I heard, in thrilling detail, how my boys got the winning touchdown by handing the ball to Chuck, play after play, until he got it into the end zone. I recall being excited about the victory, and the way it was won; but I was oh, so disappointed that I hadn't been there. It was kind of like the agony and the ecstasy, and I guess that's why it's the most memorable game--I never saw.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Happy, Humble Moment

Since the publication of "Homeless Isn't Hopeless", I've had a running love affair with libraries. It all began, of course, with the library at Florida Keys Community College, where most of the book was written. Then there was the placement of "Homeless Isn't Hopeless" on the shelves at the Denver Public Library--twice rated the number one public library among the 9,000 in America. And there was the help creating this blog, which I received at the Parmly Public Library in Billings, Montana. There are so many more libraries, where I worked, and received encouragement and help. But no library experience has given me a bigger thrill than learning that the Ohio County Public Library in my hometown, Wheeling, West Virginia, has purchased "Homeless Isn't Hopeless".

Friday, May 28, 2010

"You Gotta Do, What You Gotta Do"

I really don't feel like writing this column today.

 Working on it makes me feel sad, and angry, and helpless. But I know that I'll feel even worse if I don't do it; because, just maybe, this story will change some people's perception of poverty, and will help them better understand the plight of the working poor.

 I've written and spoken a number of times about the fifties being the most difficult years for those who are homeless, or are on the brink of homelessness. It's a time of life when it becomes harder to find and hold onto jobs; and it's the time of life when health begins to decline, while social security and medicare are still years away.

 Bob Hanzek is one of those fifty-plus people; who, in recent years, has been stuck in poverty. Lately, it's been all downhill for Bob--job-wise, housing-wise, and health-wise--and now comes word from a mutual friend that Bob is in a coma in Fort Harrison Hospital, in Helena, Montana.

 This is the third time I have written about Bob. He inspired a column that appeared last August 19 ("From Glad To Sad"), a couple of days after a chance morning meeting in Billings.

That day he was on his way home after working all night at the Montana State Fair. His job through the run of the fair was cleaning stalls--which means he worked all night shoveling manure. He was tired, very tired, when we talked; but he was thankful for the work.

 He had been laid off from his last full-time job a while back, and his unemployment had run its course, and he was being threatened with eviction from his rented room. And there was something else. He was in poor health, including a bad heart, which made the manual labor he was performing risky, to say the least.

Bob didn't pass along his circumstances in a complaining way; he just seemed to appreciate the opportunity for conversation. What I remember most from that brief morning encounter, was a comment said with a faint smile, "You gotta do, what you gotta do".

 A couple of months went by before I saw Bob Hanzek again. It was during another stop in Billings to use the Parmly Library facilities. My early morning arrival left me with a little spare time before the library opened, so I stopped in at the Rainbow, where a quarter gets you a good cup of coffee with the bonus of good conversation.

Bob was there, looking, as before, very tired; but just like before, he was in a thankful state of mind. He was working again. He was at the fairgrounds again. And he was cleaning stalls again.

This time, it was only a one-week gig, for the annual Livestock Exposition; but, as Bob said, "It was something". This second meeting was cause for a second column about Bob, which appeared October 18 ("Sunday Morning Coming Down")

. I tried, through Bob's story, to show that there are those who are stuck in poverty through no fault of their own; that there are those who are without regular employment, through no fault of their own; that there are those who will take and tackle any job they can find.

Now, for a third time, I am writing about Bob; and yes, I am saddened by what has happened to my friend. And yes, I am angry that folks in their fifties can be left to struggle and suffer in poverty, in this, the wealthiest nation in the world. And yes, in many cases--like Bob's--I feel helpless.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Meanness Ain't The Answer, Man!"

Hank was mad, as he blurted out those words, while obeying the officer's order to, "Move on". Hank had stopped to rest on a bench in front of a restaurant on the corner of Simonton and Flemings Streets, in Key West. The officer was responding to a complaint by the owner of the restaurant. I was passing by at the time, and Hank was right. It was pure and simple, just an act of meanness. The restaurant was not yet open; so there were no customers to disturb or offend. The weather was hot and steamy, making an occasional stop for rest, absolutely necessary for an old-timer like Hank. I've thought of Hank often the last few years--especially whenever someone displays unprovoked meanness toward the homeless. Hank's words came to mind again this week, as I learned of the meanness incurred by a homeless camper in Anchorage Alaska. Laurie Kari, of Family Promise, sent me an article that appeared in the Anchorage Daily News last Wednesday. The story is about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Dale Engle, a 52-year old veteran. Last summer, the Anchorage powers-that-be passed legislation that permitted the police to clear out homeless campers on as little as twelve hours notice. Dale couldn't vacate his campsite soon enough, and so everything he owned was confiscated. He lost his tent and his sleeping bag. The personal items that he lost included his military ribbons, and a spruce checkerboard that had been handcrafted by his father. The story hit home, and on impulse, I called Lisa Demer, the reporter who wrote the story. She told me that Dale Engle is still homeless, and Lisa said something else that is most important. Dale Engle is not a bum. He takes day labor jobs whenever he can. So, what did those powers-that-be accomplish? Dale is still in the area. Dale is still homeless (and all the poorer because of the legislation). And Dale is still a decorated veteran who works when he can. Like old Hank said, "Meanness ain't the answer, man!"

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Daily Reminder From Walt, The Barber

It's a trite expression; but in this case, it is one that is very true. Not a single day goes by that I don't think of Walt. He comes to mind every morning as I visit his calendar on my desk. What makes my thoughts linger there, however, is how I came to have that calendar. Walt gave me his "2010 Walt's Barber Shop" calendar last summer, some six months before he usually gives them out. There was a reason. Walt has Alzheimer's Disease. I have been planning to devote a column to Alzheimer's in the near future; but a conversation I had over the weekend moved "the near future" to Monday--to today. The conversation that changed the schedule was with someone who has a loved one recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's. So I would like to jump in now, to add my voice to others who are working to create awareness of the problem that is Alzheimer's; and to create understanding of what those afflicted, and their families, are going through. In other causes I have come to champion--homelessness and poverty--I also try to show that there is hope. With Alzheimer's disease, the only hope is that there will somehow be a groundswell of public opinion that will prompt government action to fund research. At this point in time, there is not only no known cure for Alzheimer's, there is a lack of funding for research to find a cure. As for awareness, thee are misconceptions that need to be addressed. A lot of folks do not look upon Alzheimer's Disease as a fatal disease. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life expectancy after diagnosis of Alzheimer's is just seven years. Many people look upon Alzheimer's disease as a fairly recent development. Again, not true. The disease first drew national attention more than a hundred years ago, when Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, brought to light this most common form of dementia. As for the future, Dr. William Thies, of the Alzheimer's Association, predicts that by the year 2020, Alzheimer's will be the nation's "primary public health problem". As for hope, that relies on research, and research relies on funding, and funding relies on action by Congress, and Congress? Congress, many of whose members will live past 85, needs to be reminded that one out of every two persons over 85 will be afflicted with some form of dementia--most likely Alzheimer's. (Editor's Note: There are two earlier articles about Alzheimer's......"Putting Homelessness In Perspective" September 10, and "The Quiet Courage Of A Barber Named Walt" Septeber 28.)