P is for praying for rain

With the climate operating as it has of late, people have been praying for rain. Or praying for the stoppage of rain. As the cliche goes, “be careful what you wish for,” as we’ve seen in the United States in recent years devastating floods after that same region had experienced fires caused in part by severe drought.

Here’s a story originally from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, then in The Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky, his father Irving Wallace and sister Amy Wallace. It should surprise almost no one who knows me that I own – present tense – the first two volumes of that quirky tome. Here’s the interesting case of the farmer who sued the local minister because he had prayed for rain.

It was the 1880s, and upstate New York was in a drought. In the tiny town of Phelps, Ontario County, in the Finger Lakes region, Presbyterian minister Duncan McLeod requested that the resident to cease whatever they were doing at noon one Saturday in August to pray for rain.

“That afternoon, it did rain, a lot. About two inches fell, washing out a bridge. Unfortunately, the rain was accompanied by lightning, and a barn belonging to farmer Phineas Dodd was struck and burned to the ground. As it happens, Dodd was the only local who refused to take part in the collective prayer, leading others to whisper that his barn loss was divine retribution.

“When Dodd heard that the minister was taking credit for the rain, he sued him for $5,000 to cover his property damage.” $5,000 in 1885 is worth over $122,000 today.

“That put the minister in a bind: Were the prayers responsible for the storm or not? Fortunately for him, it never came to that: His lawyer convinced the judge that the minister and his followers had prayed only for rain, not for the lightning, and the lightning was supplied by — who else? — God.”

Even we Presbyterians need a good attorney from time to time.

For ABC Wednesday

Older Americans, the advantages of being one

Some of my friends, who have hit threshold ages (55, 60, 62 or 65, depending on the venue) at which they can receive items /services at reduced rates, refuse to accept the discounts. I think they are crazy.

It’s not just the monetary savings. It’s that I’ve gone this far and I deserve to accept the perks when they’re offered. Life can be hard, and one should take advantage of whatever makes it easier.

When I took Amtrak to Washington, DC for a conference, I was eligible for a 10 percent discount on train tickets. On the return trip to New York City, however, something even more important took place.

I had been waiting at the K gate but had to go all the way to the A gate to use the men’s room. By the time I returned, the train had been called, and the line was at the E line when I got in.

Then one of the personnel asked for people with children and senior citizens to preboard. At first, it didn’t register. But about ten seconds later, I thought, “WAiT a minute. That’s me! I can join them!” The young woman standing behind me, noting my vacillation, said, “Go for it!”

Still, I wonder if these senior perks are sustainable. Here’s a fun Census statistic: “The year 2030 marks an important demographic turning point in U.S. history according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections.

“The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history… By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18.”

I was thinking about retiring one of these days. “As the population ages, the ratio of older adults to working-age adults, also known as the old-age dependency ratio, is projected to rise. By 2020, there will be just over three-and-a-half working-age adults for every retirement-age person. By 2060, that ratio will fall to just under two-and-a-half working-age adults for every retirement-age person.

“The median age of the U.S. population is expected to grow from age 38 today to age 43 by 2060.” Yet another reason to encourage immigration. Most immigrants skew young, adding to the vitality of the nation.

From ABC Wednesday

F is for fine, fun, fantastic Friday evening

When I was staying with my sister Leslie in San Diego in early July, I may have started going a little stir crazy, I think. Keeping track of doctors’ appointments, nurses’ visits, specialists’ phone calls, paperwork for her employer was a tad overwhelming at times.

My sister and/or my niece suggested that I go see the niece go sing with her band, Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact on lucky Friday the 13th. I had never seen her sing professionally except last August, when she was singing backup for Sheila E.

Rebecca and her husband Rico picked me up. We went to a club called the Tin Roof in downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. Almost immediately, I started talking with this woman, mentioning that I am an uncle of Rebecca Jade; she was quite excited by that. “I always wanted to be a singer!”

One of the waitresses started bringing free ginger ales when she realized that I was part of the RJ entourage. I must admit that I appreciated the reflected glory.

Rebecca thought she and the band would do their set and then we’d leave, but no. The gig was a battle of the bands, sponsored by AARP . “The first-ever AARPROCKS Local Music Showcase! Four local bands will compete in a contest in which the winner receives $5,000! They rock – you pick – one lucky band wins!”

The participating bands:
Rebecca Jade and The Cold Fact
Casey Hensley Band
The Midnight Pine
Within

They all were pretty good. Rebecca and Casey were friendly competitors who gave each other hugs; heck, Casey gave ME a hug. Most of the Cold Fact chatted with me about their new album coming out in October, on VINYL as well as other formats.

Finally, about 20 minutes after the last band played, the winner was announced: Rebecca Jade & The Cold Fact! They even had one of those oversized checks made out to them. It was a great night!

Listen to Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact

Gonna Be Alright

Cuts Like a Winter

For ABC Wednesday

Q is for quinquennial Economic Census

The U.S. Census Bureau is mailing out instructions for businesses filling out the quinquennial 2017 Economic Census to businesses nationwide. Quinquennial means every five years.

Census tracks the business activities at a detailed level in years ending with 2 and 7, obviously after those years are completed, and businesses have the information to be reported.

In April, the Bureau sent out letters to about 3.7 million U.S. businesses nationwide, including those in U.S. territories, big and small, selected single-location companies and all multi-location companies. The mailed information contain instructions on how respondents can create an account and use the authentication code provided in the letter to access their questionnaire.

For the first time, the Economic Census will be conducted almost entirely online, designed to be both data secure and more convenient for businesses to respond. For the 2012 Economic Census, the vast majority of companies were mailed paper forms in early 2013, but had the option to answer online. It turned out that 53 percent of respondents decided to report electronically.

For this iteration, respondents create their own, unique passwords on the Respondent Portal, which provides an added layer of privacy where the respondent can manage their account online and decide if they want to share access with someone else.

The deadline for response to the quinquennial 2017 Economic Census is June 12. The individual responses are confidential. Only aggregated data will be released.

The Bureau says: “Every five years, the Census Bureau collects information about businesses that are essential to understanding the American economy. The economic census serves as the most comprehensive source of data related to business activity and serves as the foundation for the measurement of U.S. businesses and their economic impact.”

While it is true that the Census Bureau conducts other economic surveys, the ones that are more frequent are also less detailed. The Economic Census is considered a “cornerstone of many Census Bureau and other federal statistical programs that provide timely information on the health of the U.S. economy.”

In other words, like the population surveys double check each other for accuracy and completeness, the economic side does much the same thing.

For ABC Wednesday

P is for poverty: being poor is expensive

Having experienced it occasionally myself, I know that being poor is expensive. But poverty is not the result of a lack of character. Although one might think so: ‘They used to be servants.’ Minimum wage-hating restaurateur rants about his “greedy” employees.

Cash bail reform has gotten some traction because communities understand that bail is not about justice or safety, but wealth and poverty. “Right now, a person charged with a crime can either pay bail and live free until they stand trial or, if they cannot afford it, be jailed until their trial date. Folks with money pay bail while poor folks get jail. And those in jail are far more likely to take pleas deals instead watching the rest of their lives (and finances) fall apart while they wait for a trial.”

Some neighborhoods are now being targeted with new predatory loan offerings, a lawsuit argues. This is the story of that lawsuit, and of the rent-to-own universe in general.

The student loan sharks who prey on veterans and single moms have a friend in Trump’s education secretary, millionaire Betsy DeVos.

It can be a terrible spiral: Oregon woman evicted from senior housing for $328 in late rent freezes to death in parking garage.

The current Federal Communications Commission chair, Ajit Pai, has threatened to cut the Lifeline program, which helps 12.5 million low-income people access internet or phone service.

The regime is considering drug testing plan for food stamp recipients, which has always cost more to administer than the intended savings.

National Public Radio discussed Virginia Eubanks’ book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor.

What if you got $1,000 a month, just for being alive? I decided to find out.

Kathy Sheehan, who was re-elected mayor of Albany in November 2017, spoke at my church on March 4 about her equality agenda, including the City of Albany Poverty Reduction Initiative (CAPRI) program. Here is the New York State anti-poverty initiative.

Who Do Tax Breaks Benefit? Go on and take a guess. The Weekly Sift guy understands: My taxes are half what I’d pay if I just made wages.

I’ve seen numerous GoFundMe campaigns after people went through extended disaster that have damaged homes, serious illness or injury not covered by insurance. A decade ago, there was a Harvard study that showed that 43,000 Americans were dying each year because they had no health insurance. And we may be heading back in that direction.

As bad as it is in the United States, it’s far worse in developing nations. On the March 21 Daily Show with Trevor Noah Matt Damon and Gary White from water.org discussed how easier access to water transformed people’s lives with the gift of time.

This a global phenomenon: If this goes on… The 1% will own two thirds of the world by 2030, based on the House of Commons Library’s published research projecting the post-2008 growth of inequality.

N is for nativism versus immigration

There have have always been nativism movements in the United States. Seldom has been as blatant as it’s been the past year and a quarter. In February 2018, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director L. Francis Cissna announced that the agency changed its mission statement from:

“USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”

To now:

“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”

The aspirational angle has been lost.

By contrast, “During the 1940s, America basically underwent a nationwide sensitivity training program. Zoe Burkholder, a historian of education, writes… that a ‘forced tolerance’ movement had begun frothing a decade earlier as educators feared that scientific racism—the pseudoscientific ‘Master Race’ theories brewing in Germany—could waft overseas.” A reasonable worry, evidently.

Thus the story about the Superman pic shown. (Hey, wasn’t he an illegal alien?) What I do know is that the current regime’s attitude is troublesome.

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn notes: “The part where Jesus says to welcome the stranger is not a suggestion, it is a directive.”

The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein writes that Ronald Reagan “not only celebrating the concept of welcoming people from all sorts of places during his kickoff of the fall campaign, but arguing that it was immigrants who helped build the country and it was the dream that they embodied that was what made America great.” The GOP icon didn’t believe in nativism.

In other words, the US Needs ‘sh*thole’ countries, not the other way around. “America’s prosperity and security are greatly dependent on the goodwill and cooperation of other nations, developed and emerging markets alike.”

That would include chain migration, or family reunification.

Read former President Obama on immigration from September 2017

A pastor friend of mine noted recently, “I am thinking this morning of good people, great Americans I know, who have come here from Haiti, [various African countries], Pakistan, Philippines. These Americans contribute to the greater good of the US… [they] have worked hard, learned to live in an often-less-than-friendly new place, raised strong families, and sent their kids to college so they can also contribute to society… You ARE the American People.”

As Flow of Foreign Students Wanes, U.S. Universities Feel the Sting.

The Weekly Sift guy nailed it when he wrote about The Real Immigration Issue: “‘Illegal’ immigration has always been a red herring. The more fundamental question is whether the United States will continue to be a country dominated by English-speaking white Christians.” Will nativism continue to push back?

For a brief historic perspective, read Becoming a Citizen: Naturalization Records, 1850 – 1930

For ABC Wednesday

M is for the US marijuana laws

accurate as of 22 Jan 2018

Those of you not living in the United States may not understand the odd complexity of the marijuana laws across the country.

Several states have legalized the use of medical marijuana. A growing number of jurisdictions have made it available for recreational use.

The states have been serving as laboratories of democracy. It is “a phrase popularized by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis…to describe how a ‘state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.'”

Though marijuana remained on the federal books as a controlled substance, the US Justice Department had agreed not to go after users and sellers who were operating legally in their states. That is, until early 2018, when the Justice Department rescinded that policy.

The Rockefeller Institute of Government released a policy brief on how U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recent actions put the Justice Department on a collision course with states.

Even members of the GOP have blasted the new policy. US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said, “By attacking the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributes to marijuana itself.

“He is doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to wage a perpetual weed war and seize private citizens’ property in order to finance its backward ambitions.”

This issue has affected my job. Even before the Sessions ruling, but since January 20, 2017, the SBDCs have cautiously determined that they cannot knowingly serve a business associated with marijuana, even in states where it’s legal.

Moreover, there is a very real fear that if centers were to go after alternative funding to serve those businesses, they could lose their SBA (federal) funding. So I can’t answer a reference question on the topic, or even refer them to NORML or another organization.

US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) wrote: “For decades, the failed war on drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders, especially for marijuana-related offenses. This has wasted human potential, torn apart families and communities, and squandered massive sums of taxpayer dollars.”

He has introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which will remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. I’m personally agnostic about marijuana use, but am vehemently opposed to its recriminalization.

For ABC Wednesday

L is for Lodge’s, Albany’s oldest department store

Lodge’s, or more formally, B. Lodge & Co., was founded in downtown Albany, NY in 1867, a couple years after the end of the American Civil War. When I stopped working downtown, and our office moved out to Corporate (frickin’) Woods in 2006, one of the things I wrote was that I would miss is that eclectic department store, and I did.

It is the place where one can find school uniforms and medical scrubs. One Yelp review notes: “They mainly sell the essentials here, nothing particularly fancy, ” and that is quite true. Another writes: “The staff is almost unerringly helpful and knowledgeable.” And the prices are quite reasonable.

A 2009 piece in All Over Albany described the place as “eclectic” and that’s certainly the case. It’s open Monday – Saturday, 8:50 a.m. to 5:25 p.m. – who DOES that? and is closed Sundays.

You can read its extensive history here, but basically, it has been at four different locations, all but one on North Pearl Street, changing as a result of business expansions or a devastating 1952 fire, after which it moved to its current location at 75 N. Pearl.

The Lodges sold the business in 1960 to the Ginsburgs. Jack and Elaine Yonally bought it in 1995; as of 2011, it’s now owned by their children, Mark Yonally and Sharon Freddoso.

The December 2017 Times Union article about the store notes: “Lodge’s does not sell any items online, does not have a business Instagram or Twitter account and first added a website several years ago.” It does have a Facebook page.

Now that I’ve been back working downtown since 2015, I’m happy to be able to shop at Lodge’s again. It’s usually on Tuesdays, since they give a senior citizen discount then. Mark and Sharon and some of their other employees know me by sight, if not by name.

I’ve purchased shirts, pants, socks, a belt, winter gloves, and cheap sunglasses in the past few months. As someone who loathes shopping generally, it’s my favorite place to buy clothes.

I have to think that Barrington Lodge and his two sons, Charles and William, would be pleased that their family business has celebrated its sesquicentennial.

For ABC Wednesday

E is for etiquette

When you say etiquette, some people’s eyes glaze over, singularly uninterested in knowing which fork to use in a seven-course meal they’ll never be invited to.

I understand that. I’m going to suggest some more practical ones. Feel free to add to these in the comments.

PUT AWAY YOUR DAMN PHONES ETIQUETTE

Every movie theater, every concert hall announces, before the lights go out, to turn off your phone. This means YOU too. So, halfway through the movie is NOT the time to pull out your phone to check the time. Instead of looking at the movie, I’m looking at you. And when you bolt out of your chair as soon as the credits begin – often missing ancillary information about the film – I’m the one you can’t see glaring at you.

When you’re crossing the street, know that you are NOT as good a multitasker as you think you are. Stick your phone in your pocket until you get to the other side.

This is especially true of you who decide to come out from between parked cars in the middle of the block and, more often than not, walk diagonally across the road. If I accidentally hit someone while riding my bicycle, it’ll be one of those fools.

PROVIDE PERSONAL SPACE ETIQUETTE

You may be surprised to know that the bus you’ve been waiting on to board might just be letting off people first. Give them room to do so, lest they inadvertently step on your foot or worse.

When you’re going to an ATM, give the person ahead of you some privacy so that one can type in the PIN without prying eyes. Someone recently had finished his transaction before me but stood off to the side without vacating the area.

Likewise, when you’re getting confidential information from your pharmacist, you do not want to be feeling the breath of someone behind you. Back off!

And it still needs to be said: cover your mouth when you cough, preferably into the elbow.

IT’S THE LAW, BUT DO IT ANYWAY ETIQUETTE

The reason the law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians is that the driver goes first, the pedestrians might easily find themselves stuck in the middle of the intersection when the lights change.

Don’t block the sidewalk with your parked car. Don’t block a crosswalk with your car, even though you’re only going to be away for a “few minutes.”

Use the blind person/wheelchair rule. If YOU were blind or in a wheelchair, would YOUR behavior hamper your access?

Clear your sidewalk of snow and ice by more than a shovel-width.

Don’t smoke in the bus kiosk, especially when it is CLEARLY MARKED; it’s not nice to poison others.

By following these few simple suggestions, you’ll make, and countless others, VERY happy.

T is for transportation

Early in October, I needed to get back from my hometown of Binghamton, NY back to my home in Albany in order to see The Color Purple at Proctors Theatre in nearby Schenectady. I stopped at the nice newish transportation hub in Binghamton, which had been spruced up a whole lot since I last took a bus out of Binghamton.

Unfortunately, it closed at 9:45 p.m., and I was there at 10:30. Worse, when I got online, I discovered that the bus I wanted, which leaves at 4:15 a.m.(!), was sold out.

Still, my friend got up at 3:15 to take me to the bus station; now THAT is a true pal. A bus heading for Syracuse, north, but a couple hours west of Albany, shows up around 4:15. The last time I needed to buy a ticket when the station was closed I would buy it from the driver.

Apparently, the procedure now is that he holds my ID, drives me to Syracuse, and THEN I buy a ticket for the trip I’ve already taken, and get my ID back. Then I buy a ticket for the bus from Syracuse to Albany, which was showing up at 6:30, only a half hour after I arrived; cool.

Syracuse has an even nicer transportation hub. I could have caught the train from there, if necessary.

I liked this: a young woman was heading back to college in western Massachusetts from Rochester, west of Syracuse. Unfortunately, she overslept and missed her bus. Fortunately, her father drove her the nearly 90 miles from Rochester to Syracuse in the middle of the night. She was very appreciative.
***
When I ride my bike, I ride along the right side of the road, the way I am supposed to. At least a couple times a week, I see a guy bearing right at me, because he’s going on the left side, usually going the wrong way on a one-way street to boot.

Almost every time this happens, he yells, “You’re on the wrong side!” To which I yell back, “You are incorrect.” Short of throwing page 91 of the New York State driver’s manual, which reads, “Where there is [no bicycle lane, bicyclists] must remain near the right curb or edge of the road or on a right shoulder of the road, to prevent interference with other traffic,” there’s not much I can do.

For ABC Wednesday