Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Anne's Story

I am not sure what the moral of this story is, yet. One, at least, is why people are walking away from churches in droves. The younger generation, especially, can’t stomach the hypocrisy, hatred, and vindictiveness. There are several object lessons to be learned here. So sit back and read a sad tale about not one but two churches, apparently vying for the title of the Bluegrass’s own jr. Westboro Baptist Church wanna-be as they heap their “Christian love” on a Jewish widow with a developmentally disabled child – Bethel Presbyterian Church and Woodford Christian Church.

If the word "presbyterian" sounds familiar, it should. The leaders of the Presbyterian church recently instigated an anti-Israel divestment campaign in order to attempt to force Israel to give up even more land (how much more does the reservation need to shrink, exactly? apparently to nothing!).

This tale starts some years ago when a nice Jewish girl fell in love with a man whose family is Christian. Well, they profess Christianity, anyway. The future father-in-law only “found Jesus” seriously when he was caught having a 10 year affair with another woman. We can’t help but be skeptical that his new-found enthusiasm was far more rooted in an attempt to save his reputation and his marriage than any genuine repentance. But I digress. They were not amused at their son’s Jewish fiancĂ©e. They were also not amused that he did not take their backward beliefs seriously enough to marry within their faith. They were especially not amused when later, after he had been married some time, he decided to convert to Judaism.

His conversion was finalized days before their first and only child, a son, was born – in what should have been weeks before the boy came into the world. The baby’s premature entrance into their lives, and the health problems that followed, were all her fault, they whispered. She enticed him to convert, that evil Jewess. Their grandson was struck down because of their son’s conversion. Of course, I use the term “whisper” loosely. They made sure she knew their feelings. When their grandson was older, they told him confidently that his mother was going to hell.

Infidelity was not the only problem in the in-law's family, however, her husband's mother had health problems, too. Specifically, she had a hereditary heart disease that caused her to have a quadruple-bypass when she was only 38. Anne knew this, but did not know that her husband had inherited the same disorder. No one told her, her husband not wanting her to worry. When her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at a very young age, just 3 weeks past his 40th birthday when their child was only 7 years old, she was caught unprepared. Having lost his job in this bad economy some time prior, he had no life insurance. Anne was left with nothing. You would think this would be the point where the good Christian people of her in-laws church or the church who rented the house to her would show the world their quality. Well, they did alright.

It began at the funeral, which had two officiants, one being the pastor of the in-laws church, at their insistence. The other was a dearly beloved community Rabbi of a Lexington synagogue. The Rabbi's words were kind, compassionate, and endearing. He reached out to the family and offered hope, healing, and peace.

The pastor of the in-laws church, not so much. He basically said that the deceased Jewish man was in hell, and if the rest of the attendees didn’t want to end up there, too, they had better give money to his church. Not to the widow and the disabled child, mind you. They were not offered anything. To the church. They took up a collection. For the church. At the funeral. Anne became physically ill listening to this garbage and was then berated by these good church people for throwing up in the hallway. After all, it was all her fault, you know. As ill-bred and tacky as all that is to the rest of us, it gets worse.

The in-laws, afterward, apparently with the encouragement of their church, continued to heap psychological abuse on the child, trying to shame him into hating his mother and Judaism, and telling him hell awaited all Jews. The child, confused and frightened, regressed in his therapy and did not do well in school. Though Anne does not now have health insurance, she did not take her son out of his essential therapy, either. The bills are piling up. As you can guess, the in-laws were certainly not interested in helping to pay the treatment costs for a therapist trying to undo their perverted mental warfare against the child.

When it became clear that their proselytizing efforts were not going to cause the Jewish lady to suddenly convert to their heartless and hateful church, the Presbyterians decided to evict the widow and her child from the home they had been renting, which was owned by the church. Anne was asked when she and her husband first rented whether or not she was a "Jew for Jesus." That probably should have set off some alarm bells. Fast forward to after the funeral, now claiming they had never agreed to wait each month until her social security death benefits arrived, they said she had not paid her rent on time and ordered her and her child out with no recourse. They wanted another month's rent from her as well, even though she was being evicted, but of course she had to use her limited available funds to put a deposit and pay the first month's rent on a new place. They are now claiming she owes them over $1000 dollars for a month's rent on a home she was forced out of and could not occupy during that time.

So, the widow and her son packed up, and moving day was stressful and traumatic, especially for a developmentally disabled child. Worse, the child’s pet kitten escaped during the move, ran out of the house and could not be located. Though the child was upset, at last they had to leave without the kitten. They simply didn’t have hours to continue looking for it. The church had demanded they leave, and the move had to go on schedule.

Then, the church appeared to relent somewhat of their vindictive and hateful behavior, and said the widow’s sister-in-law, the daughter of her in-laws, “fine” Christian people (but not Presbyterian), could finish out the lease. As she was moving in, however, they changed their minds and ordered her out, also, and sent a notice to the widow indicating their intent to sue her for “damages” to the property. You will notice from the pictures below, there is no “damage” to speak of, other than perhaps normal wear and tear of living there for 5 years.

The church, of course, did not maintain their property in any significant way during that time. An outside outlet that caught fire due to their failure to repair it in a timely manner was removed only after Anne was forced out, since they apparently did not want any new tenants to realize how lackadaisical their stewardship actually is. Here are pictures of a missing smoke detector, a missing outlet, and an electric box which failed inspection that the Presbyterian church refused to repair from the time Anne and her husband first moved in, as well as accumulated water damage along a roofline that they were apparently not sufficiently concerned about to fix.

Nonetheless, Anne spackled the nail holes in the walls to prepare the place to be painted for the new tenants and cleaned everything thoroughly as they prepared to move. (Hoping to buy the home from the church at some point in the future, Anne and her husband had actually installed some beautiful tilework and put in a patio at their own expense before he died, too. It was actually in nicer shape when she left it than when they arrived, except for the church's own deferred maintenance issues.) In an apparent attempt to extort even more money from the widow, they are suing anyway.

And for good measure they called and filed a complaint with Animal Control, claiming the widow and child had “abandoned” the kitten on the property and left it in a shed.

So now the Jewish widow has hastily decamped to a rental home that is far away from the school where the special needs child was receiving remedial services and therapy, thanks to these wonderful Christian people whose hatred of Jews and Judaism, whose spite-filled hearts and corrupt spirits, give decent people a bad vibe, to say the least. And they wonder why she didn’t want to join their church!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My own personal Exodus

I am sure pretty much nobody has been wondering what I've been doing lately and why I haven't posted much lately, but I will tell you anyway. It has been a stressful journey of ups and downs.

Late last October I quit my job for good reasons. Very good reasons. I applied for unemployment and my boss decided to fight my claim, a particularly insane move because it meant I would have to tell the STATE why I quit, which was sure to cause him problems. Long story short, he lost. I began receiving benefits at the end of January.

From October until this week, I have stepped up my volunteer activities. Of course, I was required to apply for at least one job each week, and I did. Informing the potential employers I could not work on Shabbat or Jewish holidays was a pretty good poison pill. This gave me plenty of time for volunteering and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. Yea?

One of the things I decided to get rid of is the condo where we are currently living. Some years back I sacrificed my yard and vegetable garden so the boys could be within walking distance of a good education, in a neighborhood with like-minded people. Now that my youngest is in his first year of college, I decided I wanted my garden back. Thus began the quest for a new house. We put our condo on the market in December, and was promptly confronted with the worst winter this area has seen in decades, wherein each weekend more and worse snow and ice prevented anyone from looking at our home.

And I said "$%(*@#()$*%" because March rolled around - time to begin preparing garden plots - and we had only had one showing. Meanwhile we half-heartedly looked for a new house because the sale prices for the condos in this development were pretty wildly disparate, meaning we had no idea what sort of down-payment we would have on a new place. Of course, I had a vague idea of the price range I wanted for a new home, knowing how much of a monthly payment we could afford and not wanting to go beyond that (regardless of what the mortgage brokers say. Let me tell you, they are STILL trying to get people to sign up for mortgages they cannot afford). Our real estate agent was also dismayed by my firm insistence that I know what we can really afford. Her commission, of course, would be better if we bought what we were "qualified" to buy. Not a chance.

So in April two things happened, one is someone else finally looked at our unit and decided to buy it. Yea! Then we found what seemed like a nice place to buy, in a very walkable sustainable area, only to find out the place had some rather serious foundation problems in the back, so we withdrew our offer. Boo. Then we found another place which was great in every way - Yea! - except it is located rather far away from everything I want to be near. Boo. With the closing date on the condo careening toward us, we decided it would do. Ok.

The inspection on this one went well. Yea! But the appraisal came in below the price that we had agreed to purchase, which was a problem for our credit union. Boo. Looking at losing the sale, they accepted the slightly lower price. Yea, because I didn't want to have to find a short term apartment lease or live in a hotel. Double-yea!

Then our buyer got her inspection, and decided we needed to replace windows - expensive boo. Also the attic fan was kaput. Boo again. I call the electrical guys to come fix the fan, and they do. Yea. I call the glass company the buyer recommended, and that has been a fiasco. Two large windows "needed" to be replaced, one they didn't even try because when they unwrapped the glass, it had a giant scratch in the middle of it. The other window they broke trying to install. It will take another week to re-order the glass - which is AFTER the supposed closing date! Uber Boo!

So I have a closing date from the realtor and I line up the movers and the cleaning service...and the closing date may not now work. Also, because it is apparently going to be in the middle of next week, after the deadline for payment, we will have to pay another @#$%(*$ condo fee for May. Boo.

So now my stress level is off the chart.

Also, in December, I decided to prepay for my certification exams. I have a year to take the exams - Yea! But I only had until May to have free online training classes, and that time has now passed without me having completed all of them. Boo. No worries, the textbooks are good - yea. But expensive - boo. I haven't had any time at all in the last few weeks to study at all. Boo again.

On the upside, I did find a new half-time job with a Jewish employer - yea. I start work in the middle of the upcoming move. Boo. Also, no vacation time will be accrued for attending the Hadassah national conference this summer. Boo again. On the other hand, I work from home and still have time for volunteering. Yea!

Still don't have health insurance. Boo. Neither do the boys. Boo again. That's a long story for another post.

Diet is going poorly, to say the least. I am a stress eater. Uber boo. Right now, the house is a wreck, half the stuff is packed and the rest is scattered around to be sorted, categorized and packed or donated. My poor hormones are so whacked up at the moment I have experienced "that time of month" every two weeks for the last month. Hubby not happy. Of course, he has an eternity of vacation hours accrued that he has not used and could certainly stay home and help pack and do the minor repairs instead of me having to do it all, so I'm not feeling much sympathy for him at the moment. Meh.

Have been spending way too much eating out, and it's not like that stuff is healthy, organic food. Boo again.

When everything settles down, though, we will be in a better financial position with lower monthly mortgage payments, no condo board fee, and a bigger home with a nice yard and garden, and even a garage that could grow up to be a catering business someday. Uber yea!

So as I type this at 4:25 am EDT being too stressed and wound up to sleep, breaking Shabbat in the process, and having to be at shul at 9:30 to heat the food and prepare the social hall for kiddush lunch, I am hoping that peace and calm will finally prevail. The promised land is within sight - will I ever get there?

**Also, I am sad to see that Jblog central has closed up shop. No more A's on my papers, I guess. Boo.**

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Official "I told you so."

Last Monday after our weekly local food policy group meeting I popped into the library branch across the street. I had a few minutes to peruse the recent releases section, and found an interesting looking book called:

Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars and Suburbs
by Eric W. Sanderson, author of Mannahatta

Now, I blast through books pretty quickly, but this one has gone very fast because this guy apparently loves charts and graphs as much as I do. But what made me stop and say, "Ah-ha!" appears in a section that starts on page 206 near the bottom, called "Roads to Rails." Yes, you read that rightly. Roads to Rails.

"...When imagining the [coming] streetcar revolution, don't rely on your experience of public transit today, with long unpredictable waits, dingy subway tunnels, and motorbus diesel fumes. Instead, imagine what every city once had - lots and lots of streetcars running all the time along every big street. ...Streetcars...are [part of] the beginnings of a new transportation network, reaching...across America and bringing people to light rail trains running along major thoroughfares. Light rails are close cousins of the subway and elevated railway, except they run on the ground.

...America already has a world-class freight rail system. ...Today freight railways connect to trucks for the final delivery; in the future, they will connect to streetcars, and in the cities, the old subway tunnels. ...At night specially designed flatbed streetcars will pull up to businesses or neighborhood stations. ...Curb cutouts with loops of side track will provide lading sites out of the main flow [of traffic].

...We make this happen by committing roads to rails, literally. Dedicating road space to rails resolves two problem simultaneously. First, the roads turn out to be excellent places to build railways at lower cost. The budgets of most rail projects today are based on an assumption that automobile traffic will continue on ad infinitum. ...they literally have nowhere to go in today's world because all our [urban] land is already given over to established public and private uses. ...As a result, the budgets of [projects] are swollen with funds for purchasing rights-of-way and to construct tunnels, overpasses, elevated lines, and other extraordinarily expensive acts of engineering necessary to find a route without disturbing the [angry gods of the] car. Making the counter assumption of [limited] cars provides extraordinary relief - now there is lots of space and reduced costs. Roadways are already engineered for transport, with bridges and tunnels in place. The electricity is already there... Dedicating roads to rail means that capital costs drop dramatically because land acquisition and grading expenses evaporate; it also means we need less land dedicated to mechanized transportation, so we have more room for sidewalks, bike paths, parks, and garden cafes.

...Deploying railways down Main Street provides a second great advantage: it competes with the cars that remain. As streetcars...become more prevalent [and are given preferential treatment at intersections, etc.]...congestion worsens for automobiles, fuel costs rise [and insurance, and taxes, and mileage fees are implemented, not to mention the costs of just buying more cars], and free parking vanishes [I think it pretty well already has downtown here where we live!], more people will see the wisdom of giving up on cars [for urban transport, and utilize the streetcars, trolleys, bike paths and walkable neighborhoods]...

Do you hear that jingling in your pocket? That's the 20% of your income now free to be deployed elsewhere in the economy...."

Any of that sound familiar, class? Wait for it...Yes! That is pretty much exactly what I told the LFUCG at the planning commission meeting back in 2007, right down to the freight delivery at night.

Just think, if our area had inter-urbans running between Lex and the surrounding towns, if we had regional rail to Lousiville and Cincinnati, and streetcars serving every neighborhood. Since republicans plan to sell off all the highways and interstates as toll roads, commuting will be even more annoying than Mr. Sanderson imagines, and more costly.

The city would install and own the basic infrastructure, as well as the actual streetcars and rail cars, he goes on to explain. These then could be leased to private companies to run, or kept as a govt affiliated non-profit public service with an independent board. (Leases to for-profits would only be 3-5 years in length, and a public town meeting would decide whether the customers were happy with the prices and service or not.) Since transportation is a necessity of life, I am far more in favor of the non-profit solution.

Vehicle Miles Traveled - VMT - has fallen and will continue to fall, despite claims of a so-called "recovery." Tax revenue for maintaining roads for cars continues to fall and efforts to boost revenue will only drive more people away from the market, no pun intended. There is not enough gasoline tax revenue to maintain roads now. Continuing to commit to more roads is foolish in the extreme. There is no economic model that enables families with falling wages to continue paying higher and higher taxes and operational costs for cars.

The fact is the expenses of private automobiles are no longer sustainable and will become increasingly less so, as cost creep drives more and more families away from automobiles being affordable. It is time Lexington and every township take an honest, hard look at our priorities for transportation spending. We should not be subsidizing a dead-end, obsolete product, and should instead re-direct our efforts at democratic and egalitarian solutions, accessible to all, and not-for-profit.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A ghost of 2007

This past week there was an exchange between my Dear Hubby and one of his fellow bloggers regarding steps for dealing with walkability and growing economic constraints preventing millennials and even middle class people from buying cars. It was suggested that there was no plan for dealing with these issues, and that the local government did not know what to do.

Bull malarkey.

This is the text of a 10-minute oral presentation that I gave to the LFUCG Planning Commission in February of 2007 (updated just a wee bit). I handed out printed copies to every commissioner and my speech was entered into the public record. DO NOT EVER let the LFUCG say they didn't see this coming, or had no idea what to do.

Here is the presentation I gave them, slightly updated:

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I think it is time for us to realize that one way or another, the issues of peak oil and climate change are going to rise up and bite us in the our exalted posteriors. Reports from respected governments, NGO advisers, and think tanks all over the world, even the German military, have published reports sounding the alarm. To say that there are hundreds of years worth of reserves in the ground is a fallacy as a reason to not take energy issues seriously. Just because they are in the ground does NOT mean it will be economical to develop them, or that the average family will be able to afford the end products. The decline rate of fracking wells is scary - their production becomes negligible in less than a decade.

And they cannot be operated at less than $80-$100 a barrel for the oil. Already there are entire neighborhoods in Lexington that are for all practical purposes priced out of the private automobile market, and as costs for cars/gas/insurance continue to rise, more and more of the middle class will be affected. I can tell you for a fact that if one of our cars broke down today, we would not be able to replace it. And we are hardly the only ones living on the edge of paycheck to paycheck in this economy.

To take a middle of the road estimate, we only have about 20 years 15 years to re-configure planning and development as we know it, both for already developed areas and for those now being developed, and most certainly for all future developments. I would like to therefore throw out a list of things that we need to adopt immediately, whether we like it or not, to try and combat the effects that peak oil and climate change will have on our society.

I don’t have any illusions about anyone actually liking or adopting these proposals. I’m a realist, not an optimist. But after having considered the situation carefully, I have come to the conclusion that these things could be done, if anyone was willing. So in 20 years 15 years, if nothing else, I’ll at least be able to say “I told you so,” when everyone looks back and says, “Why didn’t we…”

1. Electric trolley/streetcar systems need to be installed to service every last neighborhood in our urban area. These neighborhood electric systems need to be served in turn by an electric collector system of express streetcars, subways, or light rail. If that means taking up road lanes, so be it. Gasoline powered buses must be replaced with electric ones, starting immediately.

2. A moratorium needs to be placed on “big box” and “mega-shopping” centers. We have enough of these already. The existing ones need to be tied into the electric mass transit system. If that means taking up road lanes, so be it.

3. Every new neighborhood must be absolutely required to have three things:

a) Small neighborhood grocery, pharmacy, and hardware retail shopping within ¼-½ mile of every home built – in other words, within a reasonable walking distance.
b) A children’s playground, adjacent to at least two acres of open field space, with walking tracks, etc. (This open space can also be used for air-dropping emergency rations, medicine, or supplies, and can be a staging area for a “tent city” of government, medical or military operations during a natural or man-made disaster.) These should be no greater than 1-¾ mile walking distance from every home in the development.
c) A “community center” building, with presentation/classroom space and assembly space, hopefully adjacent to the open field, must be provided for each neighborhood.

4. All existing neighborhoods need to be retrofitted to meet the above requirements. (“Retrofitted” is a nice, polite way of saying that the division of planning needs to select a block or two in each existing neighborhood that more or less meets the walkability requirements and raze it to the ground in order to put in a-c above.)

5. All new development (both residential and commercial) must, starting immediately, be required to have solar panels or solar shingles to supplement the building’s electrical needs. In order to put the electric mass transit in place in an already near capacity electric grid, we are going to have to get serious about this now.

6. Existing development must be retrofitted with solar panels or solar shingles, and the government is going to have to systematically do this in each neighborhood and provide substantial subsidies for owners of buildings to do so. This is not optional. It is not enough to reduce the electric usage of just the new developments. Old neighborhoods MUST be brought “up-to-speed” with solar power. We have a 20 year 15 year time frame to do this. There is no reason that it cannot be done in that amount of time. It is probably too little too late at this point if only half-hearted measures are taken, but it is not impossible.

7. The driving age needs to be raised immediately to at least 18.

8. The government now offers tax help for those who buy hybrid or electric cars, but this is not enough. Starting immediately, a tax adequate to deter ownership must be placed on all households or businesses starting at the 3rd registered standard gasoline vehicle. No exceptions. In five years, that needs to fall back to starting with the 2nd standard gasoline vehicle. No exceptions. In ten years, every standard gasoline vehicle must be subject to the tax. No exceptions. In addition, a substantial sales tax in addition to the regular state sales tax must be placed on the sale of standard gasoline powered vehicles. No exceptions.

9. Toll roads must charge higher tolls for standard gasoline powered vehicles. Ditto for parking permits, etc. You get the idea.

10. Rail freight must be encouraged and provided for both big and small businesses with land for standard rail yards and tie-ins to the local electric mass transit system for special electric “freight trolleys” which can deliver rail freight to local businesses at night or during non-peak hours. Alleys behind and between existing and new businesses can have spur rails for these trolleys to unload so they don’t block passenger service. Underground or basement unloading is also an option.

11. Free or heavily subsidized wireless internet must be made available throughout the urban area. Government must also encourage full or partial telecommuting with tax breaks for businesses – for each employee who telecommutes at least half-time.

12. All government employees should be given free passes for mass transit. Government should encourage businesses to do the same, using incentives of some sort. All students should receive a free mass transit pass from their schools, both k-12 and college (with expiration dates clearly marked).

13. Unlucky 13 I’ll add as my personal wish: All new development must be required by law to be at least 10% “affordable housing” – “affordable” being defined by something like affordable to someone with about 50% of the area’s median income. There are several ways of calculating “affordable,” and most of you already have some way of doing this, so I won’t belabor the point.

14. “Zoning” needs to be changed to allow non-industrial home businesses in all areas, and “homeowner association” rules against home-based non-industrial type businesses needs to be made illegal effective immediately, as well as forbidding HOAs to restrict laundry lines, gardens, composting, backyard greenhouses, and other food security activities.

15. Conservation of electricity and resources needs to be given a top priority. Small wind turbines on buildings and other green energy projects need to be encouraged, and the local government should lead the way.

So here they are – 15 things you can do soon or start doing right now that will greatly help the city deal with climate change and peak oil. There are surely other things, such as bike routes and the new “walkable schools” initiative, but they are just a drop in the bucket. Thank you for your time.

When I submitted this presentation to Planitizen, I added this conclulsion:

The two biggest problems we will face are lack of gasoline and hence lack of transportation, and addressing those will need to go hand-in -hand with electric conservation and alternative electric generation, and eventually the acknowledgement that it is morally wrong – a crime against humanity, even – to let electricity (and water, and local phone service) be for-profit privately owned ventures that can deny people basic necessary-for-life services due to inability to pay. – but that’s another post.

Nothing has changed today, class. Nothing has been implemented. Not one thing.