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Case Study in Time Magazine

Should Tennessee Firemen Have Let the House Burn?
By Adam Cohen Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010

It was one of the stranger news stories in a long time — and one of the most polarizing. Firefighters in rural Tennessee looked on as a house burned because the family who lived in it had not paid the $75 annual fire-protection fee. Their home was destroyed — along with three puppies that were inside.

What is more striking than the story itself is the debate it has set off, which has been raging now for more than a week. While the firefighters have come in for considerable criticism, a surprising number of commentators have come to their defense — and lashed out at the family that lost their home.
(See pictures of crime in Middle America.)

Yet underlying the Tennessee fire debate is something much more serious and fundamental than the the back-and-forth, talking head battles about who was more at fault in this incident. At a time when lots of Americans are debating who should have citizenship, the case of Gene and Paulette Cranicks' burnt-down house hints at the more profound issue of what that citizenship should mean.

The Cranicks live in Obion County, Tennessee, outside of the city limits. That means they do not automatically get fire service — they have to pay a special fee. The family says it has paid the fee in the past, but claims they simply forgot about it this year.

When the Cranicks' home caught on fire, the firefighters showed up — but only to help out a neighbor, whose property was in the fire's path, who had paid the fire fee. Gene Cranick says he offered on the spot to pay whatever it took to put out the fire, but the firefighters refused. It might seem that firefighters would have a legal duty to put out a fire. But in this case, the firefighters did not work for the Cranicks' county — they worked for a nearby city. Their position was that they had no more obligation to put out the fire than New Jersey firemen would have to answer a call from New York.

Many observers were quick to find in the Cranicks' burning house a parable for the increasingly harsh times in which we live. But some conservatives and libertarians had a different reaction to the Cranicks' story: it actually gave them hope.

Glenn Beck, the conservative radio and television host, attracted the most attention. To prevent people from "sponging off" of their neighbors, he insisted, "we are going to have to have these kinds of things." While Beck defended the firefighters, an on-air sidekick made fun of Mr. Cranick for trying to get the fire put out — and mocked his southern accent.
(See portraits of the Tea Party movement.)

On conservative blogs, many of the commenters echoed Beck's views. The loss of the home to fire "WAS INDEED a bad situation (for the homeowner — not for anyone else)," one poster declared on RedState, a right-leaning website. Jonah Goldberg, writing in National Review Online, said that letting the home burn was "sad," but he argued that it would "probably save more houses over the long haul" since people will now have a strong incentive to pay their fees. Another writer on the same site was harsher, indicting people like the Cranicks as "jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates."
(See pictures of Republican memorabilia.)

After the fire, Paulette Cranick said that she is not angry at the firefighters. "You can't blame them if they have to do what the boss says to do," she told the Associated Press. It is a generous attitude, and fundamentally the right one: this is a failure of government policy, not of individual employees.

There is a major debate underway today about what citizenship should mean — and what you should get just for being an American. It's not, of course, a new debate. During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt expanded what citizens got through the New Deal: he created emergency assistance programs so people would not starve, and minimum wage and maximum hours laws to protect workers from the worst excesses of the free market.

Today, there are politicians and commentators who want to push in the other direction: to water citizenship down, and turn Americans into mere customers. In this view, you should get things — including basics like fire service — not as a right of citizenship, but as a privilege with a price.
(Comment on this story.)

These are large national issues, but they are also questions that local governments are answering individually. Obion County, where the Cranicks live, has looked at a variety of ways of paying for fire services. If it put a small tax on electric meters, or simply raised the property tax modestly, it could do away with the fire fee entirely.

That is the right way to go. Living in a county — or city, or town — should bring with it a minimal level of rights that don't depend on whether your check made it in the mail. Not luxuries, not frills — but things like having the flames put out when your house is on fire.

Cohen, a lawyer, is a former TIME writer and a former member of the New York Times editorial board. Case Study, his legal column for TIME.com, appears every Wednesday.

Social Security Myths

Top 5 Social Security Myths

Myth #1: Social Security is going broke.

Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a 'T'). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever.

1.After 2037, it'll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits—and again, that's without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers' retirement decades ago.

2 Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

Myth #2: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.

Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than they did 70 years ago.

3. What's more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly—since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half.

4. But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

Myth #3: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.

Reality: Social Security doesn't need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here's a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come.

5. Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income.

6. But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

Myth #4: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs

Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn't full of IOUs, it's full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.7 The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market—which would have been disastrous—but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

Myth #5: Social Security adds to the deficit

Reality: It's not just wrong—it's impossible! By law, Social Security's funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can't add one penny to the deficit.8

Defeating these myths is the first step to stopping Social Security cuts. Can you share this list now?

Thanks for all you do.

–Nita, Duncan, Daniel, Kat, and the rest of the team


1."To Deficit Hawks: We the People Know Best on Social Security," New Deal 2.0, June 14, 2010

2. "The Straight Facts on Social Security," Economic Opportunity Institute, September 2009

3. "Social Security and the Age of Retirement," Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 2010

4. "More on raising the retirement age," Washington Post, July 8, 2010

5. "Social Security is sustainable," Economic and Policy Institute, May 27, 2010

6. "Maximum wage contribution and the amount for a credit in 2010," Social Security Administration, April 23, 2010

7. "Trust Fund FAQs," Social Security Administration, February 18, 2010

8."To Deficit Hawks: We the People Know Best on Social Security," New Deal 2.0, June 14, 2010

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Who Knew?

Editor's note: TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to "Ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website. Julian Treasure, the author of "Sound Business," is chairman of UK-based audio branding specialist The Sound Agency and an international speaker on sound's effects on people, on business and on society.

(CNN) -- Most of us have become so used to suppressing noise that we don't think much about what we're hearing, or about how we listen. Yet our well-being is now being seriously damaged by modern sound. Here are 10 things about sound and health that you may not know:

1.) You are a chord. This is obvious from physics, though it's admittedly somewhat metaphorical to call the combined rhythms and vibrations within a human being a chord, which we usually understand to be an aesthetically pleasant audible collection of tones. But "the fundamental characteristic of nature is periodic functioning in frequency, or musical pitch," according to C.T. Eagle. Matter is vibrating energy; therefore, we are a collection of vibrations of many kinds, which can be considered a chord.

2.) One definition of health may be that that chord is in complete harmony. The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" which opens at least three dimensions to the concept. On a philosophical level, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and Confucius all wrote at length about the relationship between harmony, music and health (both social and physical). Here's Socrates: "Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful."

Watch an interview with Julian Treasure

3.) We see one octave; we hear ten. An octave is a doubling in frequency. The visual spectrum in frequency terms is 400-790 THz, so it's just under one octave. Humans with great hearing can hear from 20 Hz to 20 KHz, which is ten octaves.

4.) We adopt listening positions. Listening positions are a useful set of perspectives that can help people to be more conscious and effective in communication -- because expert listening can be just as powerful as speaking. For example, men typically adopt a reductive listening position, listening for something, often a point or solution.

Women, by contrast, typically adopt an expansive listening position, enjoying the journey, going with the flow. When unconscious, this mismatch causes a lot of arguments.

Other listening positions include judgmental (or critical), active (or reflective), passive (or meditative) and so on. Some are well known and widely used; for example, active listening is trained into many therapists, counselors and educators.

5.) Noise harms and even kills. There is now wealth of evidence about the harmful effect of noise, and yet most people still consider noise a local matter, not the major global issue it has become.

According to a 1999 U.S. Census report, Americans named noise as the number one problem in neighborhoods. Of the households surveyed, 11.3 percent stated that street or traffic noise was bothersome, and 4.4 percent said it was so bad that they wanted to move. More Americans are bothered by noise than by crime, odors and other problems listed under "other bothersome conditions."

TED.com: Music is medicine, music is sanity

The European Union says: "Around 20% of the Union's population or close on 80 million people suffer from noise levels that scientists and health experts consider to be unacceptable, where most people become annoyed, where sleep is disturbed and where adverse health effects are to be feared. An additional 170 million citizens are living in so-called 'grey areas' where the noise levels are such to cause serious annoyance during the daytime."

The World Health Organization says: "Traffic noise alone is harming the health of almost every third person in the WHO European Region. One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health."

The WHO is also the source for the startling statistic about noise killing 200,000 people a year. Its findings (LARES report) estimate that 3 percent of deaths from ischemic heart disease result from long-term exposure to noise. With 7 million deaths a year globally, that means 210,000 people are dying of noise every year.

The cost of noise to society is astronomical. The EU again: "Present economic estimates of the annual damage in the EU due to environmental noise range from EUR 13 billion to 38 billion. Elements that contribute are a reduction of housing prices, medical costs, reduced possibilities of land use and cost of lost labour days." (Future Noise Policy European Commission Green Paper 1996).

Then there is the effect of noise on social behavior. The U.S. report "Noise and its effects" (Administrative Conference of the United States, Alice Suter, 1991) says: "Even moderate noise levels can increase anxiety, decrease the incidence of helping behavior, and increase the risk of hostile behavior in experimental subjects. These effects may, to some extent, help explain the "dehumanization" of today's urban environment."

Perhaps Confucius and Socrates have a point.

6.) Schizophonia is unhealthy. "Schizophonia" describes a state where what you hear and what you see are unrelated. The word was coined by the great Canadian audiologist Murray Schafer and was intended to communicate unhealthiness. Schafer explains: "I coined the term schizophonia intending it to be a nervous word. Related to schizophrenia, I wanted it to convey the same sense of aberration and drama."

My assertion that continual schizophonia is unhealthy is a hypothesis that science could and should test, both at personal and also a social level. You have only to consider the bizarre jollity of train carriages now -- full of lively conversation but none of it with anyone else in the carriage -- to entertain the possibility that this is somehow unnatural. Old-style silence at least had the virtue of being an honest lack of connection with those around us. Now we ignore our neighbors, merrily discussing intimate details of our lives as if the people around us simply don't exist. Surely this is not a positive social phenomenon.

7. Compressed music makes you tired. However clever the technology and the psychoacoustic algorithms applied, there are many issues with data compression of music, as discussed in this excellent article by Robert Harley back in 1991. My assertion that listening to highly compressed music makes people tired and irritable is based on personal and anecdotal experience - again it's one that I hope will be tested by researchers.

8. Headphone abuse is creating deaf kids. Over 19 percent of American 12 to 19 years old exhibited some hearing loss in 2005-2006, an increase of almost 5 percent since 1988-94 (according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Josef Shargorodsky et al, reported with comments from the researchers here). One university study found that 61 percent of freshmen showed hearing loss (Leeds 2001).

Many audiologists use the rule of thumb that your headphones are too loud if you can't hear someone talking loudly to you. For example, Robert Fifer, an associate professor of audiology and speech pathology at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, says: "If you can still hear what people are saying around you, you are at a safe level. If the volume is turned so loudly that you can no longer hear conversation around you, or if someone has to shout at you at a distance of about 2 or 3 feet to get your attention, then you are up in the hazardous noise range."

9. Natural sound and silence are good for you. These assertions seem to be uncontroversial. Perhaps they resonate with everyone's experience or instinct.

10. Sound can heal. Both music therapy and sound therapy can be categorized as "sound healing." Music therapy (the use of music to improve health) is a well-established form of treatment in the context of mainstream medicine for many conditions, including dementia and autism.

Less mainstream, though intellectually no more difficult to accept, is sound therapy: the use of tones or sounds to improve health through entrainment (affecting one oscillator with a stronger one). This is long-established: shamanic and community chant and the use of various resonators like bells and gongs, date back thousands of years and are still in use in many cultures around the world.

Just because something is pre-Enlightenment and not done in hospitals doesn't mean that it's new-age BS. Doubtless there are charlatans offering snake oil (as in many fields), but I suspect there is also much to learn, and just as herbal medicine gave rise to many of the drugs we use today, I suspect there are rich resources and fascinating insights to be gleaned when science starts to unpack the traditions of sound healing.

I hope these thoughts make a contribution to raising awareness of sound and its effects on health. I welcome your reaction, and I will check this forum and respond.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Treasure.

Found: An Earthlike Planet at Last

By Michael D. Lemonick Wednesday, Sep. 29, 2010

The star known as Gliese 581 is utterly unremarkable in just about every way you can imagine. It's a red dwarf, the most common type of star in the Milky Way, weighing in at about a third the mass of the Sun. At 20 light years or so away, it's relatively nearby, but not close enough to set any records (it's the 117th closest star to Earth, for what that's worth). You can't even see it without a telescope, so while it lies in direction of Libra, it isn't one of the shining dots you'd connect to form the constellation. It's no wonder that the star's name lacks even a whiff of mystery or romance.

But Gliese 581 does have one distinction — and that's enough to make it the focus of intense scientific attention. At last count, astronomers had identified more than 400 planets orbiting stars beyond the Sun, and Gliese 581 was host to no fewer than four of them — the most populous solar system we know of, aside than our own. That alone would make the star intriguing. But on Wednesday, a team of astronomers announced they'd found two more planets circling the star, bringing the total to six. And one of them, assigned the name Gliese 581g, may be of truly historic significance.

For one thing, the planet is only about three or four times as massive as our home world, meaning it probably has a solid surface just like Earth. Much more important, it sits smack in the middle of the so-called habitable zone, orbiting at just the right distance from the star to let water remain liquid rather than freezing solid or boiling away. As far as we know, that's a minimum requirement for the presence of life. For thousands of years, philosophers and scientists have wondered whether other Earths existed out in the cosmos. And since the first, very un-Eearthlike extrasolar planet was discovered in 1995, astronomers have been inching closer to answering that question. Now, they've evidently succeeded (although to be clear, there's no way at this point to determine whether there actually is life on the new planet).

"We're pretty excited about it," admits Steve Vogt, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the team, in a masterpiece of understatement. "I think this is what everyone's been after for the past 15 years."

Planetary scientist James Kasting, of Penn State University, who wasn't involved with the discovery, agrees. "I think they've scooped the Kepler people," he says. Kasting refers to the Kepler space telescope, launched into space early last year on a mission to determine how common Earthlike planets might be. The "Kepler people" have a number of candidate Earths in the can, but are still working to confirm them.

Being first isn't the main reason Vogt is excited, however. "Someone had to be first," he says. "But this is right next door to us. That's the big result." What's particularly big about it is a matter of simple arithmetic. With only 116 stars closer to Earth than this one, it was hardly a sure thing that so small a sample group would produce two habitable planets, including Earth. And two such planets may be an undercount, Vogt says, since just nine out of those 100-plus stars have been studied in any detail. Indeed, one of Gliese 581g's sister planets, known as Gliese 581d (OK, they truly don't put a lot of creative energy into naming these things) could conceivably be a habitable world itself.

One of the four planets known to orbit Gliese 581 before the latest discovery, 581d was found by a team of Swiss astronomers in 2007 and was thought to be outside the habitable zone, and thus too cold for liquid water. But a reanalysis last year brought it into the zone, albeit just barely. The problem is, Gliese 581d is also too big to be Earthlike; it's probably made mostly of nonwater ice, like Neptune and Uranus, which makes a poorer candidate for life than 581g.

Lost in the excitement over possible life on the new world is what a remarkable achievement its mere discovery was. Detecting a planet this small is monstrously hard—and would have been impossible when Vogt and co-discoverer Paul Butler, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington first got into the planet-hunting game in the early 1990s. The instruments you use to detect tiny back-and-forth motions in the star — motions caused by the orbiting planet's gravitational tugs, which are often the only way to infer that the worlds exist at all—simply weren't sensitive enough. Since then, though, says Vogt, "I've been busting my gut to improve the instruments, and Paul has been busting his got to do the observations." In all, those observations span more than 200 nights on the giant Keck I telescope in Hawaii over 11 years, supplemented by observations from the Geneva group — and that painstaking work finally confirmed 581g's existence.

None of this proves that there actually is water on Gliese 581g. "Those are things we just have to speculate about," says Vogt. But he goes on to point out that there's water pretty much everywhere else you look. "There's water on Earth," he says, "and on the Moon, and Mars, and on Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus, and in interstellar space. There's enough water produced in the Orion Nebula every 24 seconds to fill the Earth's oceans."

It's not hard to imagine, in other words, that Gliese 581g might have plenty of water as well. "It could have quite a good ocean," Vogt says. Certainly, it could still be a sterile, non-biological ocean. But unlike any planet found until now, there's nothing to rule out the idea that could also be teeming with life.

Web Snooping

CNN) -- On Monday, The New York Times reported that President Obama will seek sweeping laws enabling law enforcement to more easily eavesdrop on the internet. Technologies are changing, the administration argues, and modern digital systems aren't as easy to monitor as traditional telephones.

The government wants to force companies to redesign their communications systems and information networks to facilitate surveillance, and to provide law enforcement with back doors that enable them to bypass any security measures.

The proposal may seem extreme, but -- unfortunately -- it's not unique. Just a few months ago, the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and India threatened to ban BlackBerry devices unless the company made eavesdropping easier. China has already built a massive internet surveillance system to better control its citizens.

Formerly reserved for totalitarian countries, this wholesale surveillance of citizens has moved into the democratic world as well. Governments like Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom are debating or passing laws giving their police new powers of internet surveillance, in many cases requiring communications system providers to redesign products and services they sell. More are passing data retention laws, forcing companies to retain customer data in case they might need to be investigated later.

Obama isn't the first U.S. president to seek expanded digital eavesdropping. The 1994 CALEA law required phone companies to build ways to better facilitate FBI eavesdropping into their digital phone switches. Since 2001, the National Security Agency has built substantial eavesdropping systems within the United States.

These laws are dangerous, both for citizens of countries like China and citizens of Western democracies. Forcing companies to redesign their communications products and services to facilitate government eavesdropping reduces privacy and liberty; that's obvious. But the laws also make us less safe. Communications systems that have no inherent eavesdropping capabilities are more secure than systems with those capabilities built in.

Any surveillance system invites both criminal appropriation and government abuse. Function creep is the most obvious abuse: New police powers, enacted to fight terrorism, are already used in situations of conventional nonterrorist crime. Internet surveillance and control will be no different.

Official misuses are bad enough, but the unofficial uses are far more worrisome. An infrastructure conducive to surveillance and control invites surveillance and control, both by the people you expect and the people you don't. Any surveillance and control system must itself be secured, and we're not very good at that. Why does anyone think that only authorized law enforcement will mine collected internet data or eavesdrop on Skype and IM conversations?

These risks are not theoretical. After 9/11, the National Security Agency built a surveillance infrastructure to eavesdrop on telephone calls and e-mails within the United States. Although procedural rules stated that only non-Americans and international phone calls were to be listened to, actual practice didn't always match those rules. NSA analysts collected more data than they were authorized to and used the system to spy on wives, girlfriends and famous people like former President Bill Clinton.

The most serious known misuse of a telecommunications surveillance infrastructure took place in Greece. Between June 2004 and March 2005, someone wiretapped more than 100 cell phones belonging to members of the Greek government -- the prime minister and the ministers of defense, foreign affairs and justice -- and other prominent people. Ericsson built this wiretapping capability into Vodafone's products, but enabled it only for governments that requested it. Greece wasn't one of those governments, but some still unknown party -- a rival political group? organized crime? -- figured out how to surreptitiously turn the feature on.

Surveillance infrastructure is easy to export. Once surveillance capabilities are built into Skype or Gmail or your BlackBerry, it's easy for more totalitarian countries to demand the same access; after all, the technical work has already been done.

Western companies such as Siemens, Nokia and Secure Computing built Iran's surveillance infrastructure, and U.S. companies like L-1 Identity Solutions helped build China's electronic police state. The next generation of worldwide citizen control will be paid for by countries like the United States.

We should be embarrassed to export eavesdropping capabilities. Secure, surveillance-free systems protect the lives of people in totalitarian countries around the world. They allow people to exchange ideas even when the government wants to limit free exchange. They power citizen journalism, political movements and social change. For example, Twitter's anonymity saved the lives of Iranian dissidents -- anonymity that many governments want to eliminate.

Yes, communications technologies are used by both the good guys and the bad guys. But the good guys far outnumber the bad guys, and it's far more valuable to make sure they're secure than it is to cripple them on the off chance it might help catch a bad guy. It's like the FBI demanding that no automobiles drive above 50 mph, so they can more easily pursue getaway cars. It might or might not work -- but, regardless, the cost to society of the resulting slowdown would be enormous.

It's bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state. No matter what the eavesdroppers say, these systems cost too much and put us all at greater risk.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bruce Schneier.

Sep. 5th, 2010

Since I don't really use this journal for anything else anymore, I'm going to start posting articles I find interesting. I've thought about doing it for a while now. I just read this article and I liked it because it is articulating something which I realized quite a few years ago. Women face a worldwide battle against oppression. Nor is it limited to the developing world. I see it constantly in my own world, in different and subtle ways.


(CNN) -- Discrimination against women and girls takes a staggering toll around the world, says author Sheryl WuDunn. It leads to as many as 100 million fewer females than males in the world.

Ending the oppression of women is the great moral challenge of the 21st Century, a cause she compares to fighting slavery in the 19th century and totalitarianism in the 20th Century.

WuDunn, a former reporter for The New York Times who is now an investment banker, and her husband, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, wrote "Half the Sky," a book focusing on the role of women in the world.

She spoke about their findings at the TED Global conference in Oxford in July and in an interview with CNN.

During their time as correspondents in China, WuDunn and Kristof learned of the phenomenon of an estimated 30 million "missing" baby girls in the nation.

WuDunn says part of the gap could be attributed to infanticide by families who were determined to have a male child under China's one-child policy and in part to the development of the sonogram. That medical device can be used to determine the gender of a child before birth, prompting some parents to obtain abortions.

"One peasant in the southern part of China once told us, 'The sonogram's great, we don't need to have baby girls any more.' "

The problem is not limited to China; WuDunn says there are between 60 million and 100 million missing females in the world, even though women outnumber men in some more developed nations.

The solutions, she says, are education and economic opportunity. Overpopulation is one of the larger contributors to poverty, WuDunn said. "When you educate a girl, she has significantly fewer kids." Girls who go to school get married later in life and educate their children "in a more enlightened way."

WuDunn says her work is not just about helping reveal the plight of women and girls in many countries, it's also about helping provide the groundwork for a movement to solve the problem. In the Western world, where many people have all their material needs satisfied, it's an obligation to reach out and help others, she says.

WuDunn told the story of an American aid worker in Darfur who had seen great suffering but never broke down.

On a vacation back in the United States, she visited her grandmother and noticed a bird feeder in the backyard.

"She was in her grandmother's backyard and she basically broke down. And she realized that not only was she able to feed and clothe and house herself but also see that people in her country were able to feed wild birds so that they don't go hungry in the winter. She knew that with that luck and fortune also comes great responsibility."

Here are excerpts from "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn:

"So let us be clear about this up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women's power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way -- not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen. This is a story of transformation. It is change that is already taking place, and change that can accelerate if you'll just open your heart and join in. ...

"The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings. The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction.

"Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding. The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete -- and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander."
So, I've been having a lot of trouble with LJ for the last few months. I've put up with it, because frankly I haven't been using it, and few friends are posting. But I've got pop ups every time I log in, and logging in is suddenly difficult. The log in boxes seem to be having trouble taking keystrokes. I'm thinking about dropping it.

Shows and Dog Bowls

I have decided I am going to start watching TV again; not real TV, TV taped off my DVR, so I can fast forward through the commercials. I am forever ruined for regular TV viewing. But I'm really enjoying not having to download everything I want to watch now, with all its associated risks. Having just had my computer go in no less than 3 times, it's a relief. Ironic, though, that I've spent the last several years downloading pretty much everything and only after I come home and quit does my computer go crazy; ironic, but, perhaps - fortuitous?

Big thumbs up to The Good Wife, which I literally started watching tonight. It's great to see Julianna Margulies back on screen in such a good show. I did watch the first two episodes of The Human Target. I saw it mainly because Tricia Helfer was in the first episode, but I was bored in the next episode without her. Several reviews mentioned it was a shame she wasn't brought on full time, as she dominated the pilot, and there is no stable female lead for the series; for this I agree wholeheartedly.

Previous to all this, I watched the entire series of Deadwood, which is on DVD here in the house. It was great, not but what I should have expected from an HBO production. I really enjoyed it.

I have fallen out with House - too much upheaval in the cast. I hate that. The Closer is done for the season. The Fringe I also enjoy quite a bit, and it is back on new episodes. I haven't watched The Dollhouse lately, but it did become unexpectedly entertaining for a while. I'll usually catch that and Bones when I get bored. Oh yes,and Legend of the Seeker, which is pure, mindless, kitschy fun.

My uncle gave me a boxset of Bogie and Bacall movies for my birthday, and I've been parceling them out so we can watch them together. It's been very enjoyable.

Apparently, there are storms coming through again this weekend. The animals are scheduled to be picked up early next week, exact date to be confirmed, as the weather may upend things - again.

In the meantime, my non-skid, 3 quart, stainless steel bowls arrived. Never again, I pray, may I be forced to haunt the aisles of Amazon's pet bowl lists. For the love of gawd, people, it's a PET BOWL. You would think, from the offerings on display, it was a freaking technological feat to feed your own damn animal. Stainless steel? Ceramic? Microban plastic? Liters, pints, quarts or gallons? Xtra small? Xtra large? Non-skid? Weighted? Automatic - with a timer? Portion control? Storage attached? Elevated? Personalized? Travel? No-tip? Long eared? Fountain or filtered? HEATED?!

We won't even go into the prices. I'll admit a waterer with attached reserve is tempting, so you don't have to fill up so much. It even makes sense in multiple dog households. But seriously, you do not need to spend $80 on it. You could just get..more bowls?

The Animals and the DMV

As for the animals, the original hauler, who got my service by being so quick to get back to me, is, not surprisingly, not so quick to get back to me with a refund. Although they have promised it, and two different people have told me it is being processed, the refund has not yet appeared on my statement. The first person told me on the 17th the refund had been been processed several days ago and would take 5-7 days to make it, and the second person told me the refund was being done on the 19th. Gosh, other companies can refund my credit card in, like, a day. They'll be getting a nice phone call tomorrow.

I have engaged a back-up hauler, but gawd knows when I'll hear from him. He's promised a pick-up at least by Feb. 1st, more hopefully this week. Hmph. I'm quite sure I'm never going to see them at this point, though have - successfully! - ordered a wonderful huge pouchy bed for the poodle with an equestrian theme. I love it. The cat loves it too. I've also gotten her a tie and trolley and some bowls. The saga of buying bowls shall be in the next installment.

Forgot to mention that I went into the DMV, which is a chore all on its own, to get the title and register my mother's car. They have been leasing this car and have now decided to buy it. They've bought it, actually, and they signed power of attorney over to me to finish up the details. Her husband says to just go on in early and I should be out in less than an hour. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, because that and good common sense should have told me that could never happen.

I mosey into the DMV with all my paperwork. Well...first off, the address on the title is from Toyota, which owns Lexus, and the bill of sale is from Lexus. Apparently, they have to match for the DMV to register the car. So I have to call Lexus and tell them to fax in a new bill of sale with the right address to the DMV. Then, because they are paying below book value on the vehicle, I have to take another form and get it notarized and fill in details on the vehicle itself.

Did you know they actually want the empty weight of the vehicle on these forms? My gawd..who knows that? Lexus, apparently, who put it somewhere on the forms so the nice woman at the desk could point it out to me.

I told my mother and Richard they must have been in dreamland to think I could walk into the DMV and get title and register on their vehicle with power of attorney without something going wrong. I mean, this is the DMV. NOTHING can go right first time around. I anticipate at least 3 or 4 visits before it can actually happen, as I quite positively sure there will be some other piece of paperwork I will need before it's over. Ah well..I gird my loins for the task!

My Mephisto Boots

So I have another mess to clean up, regarding a pair of boots. You'll love this..I bought these boots on a trip to France in December 05. My mother paid for them as a birthday present, telling me they were the best brand in the world - Mephisto. Well, so they were and I wore them constantly, but the hard walking in Edinburgh, which wears down all my soles in 6-8 months, took its toll. Of course, these things come with a lifetime warranty, so I bring them back to the States last Xmas, and Mum mails them off, along with a pair of her husband's, to be resoled/refurbished. It's not cheap, but I love them, so am willing to put some money into a good shoe. It's supposed to take 3 months.

Well, months and months pass. I expected to have them back over the Easter holiday, but they never came in. I have a ticket and look up their progress online, but it only tells me they are still being worked on.

Then about 2 months ago, I get a letter and catalog delivered here. I, naturally, am still in Edinburgh. The news is delivered to me via friend who handles our post in the States. The company is very sorry, but my soles have been on backorder now for over 3 months, my style has been discontinued, blah, blah, blah. Can we offer you a pair of new shoes in replacement?

Well sure - in fact, it sounds good to me. So I mosey on over to their online store and pick out some replacements and relay to my friend. She relays back - apparently, the online store is only available in Europe. The styles available in America are in the catalog they sent. Okay. That's fine. I'm back in the country, permanently, in about a month. So I come back here, and take a look through the catalog.

There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, comparable to my stylish chocolate leahter ankle boots. They have sandals, mostly, some running shoes, one pair of tall boots, one pair of ankle boots in patent leather crocodile pattern...forget it. Now I'm irritated. I don't need running shoes or fancy shoes. I actually really specifically need a good walking boot, which is what these where. Oh, and now that I think on it, they've had these shoes FOR A YEAR now. These shoes were also bought IN EUROPE. They are not an American style, so why am I only being offered American styles from what is obviously a summer catalog in the middle of winter anyway?

After being massively annoyed, I decide I'll just go for the tall boots. I don't really need them, but they're very expensive in retail, it's a good deal, and really, I just want my replacements. I email this woman who is handling the whole thing - this is a month ago, mind you - and I tell her the style I'm interested in, and I explain - politely - that as a customer, I am really not happy with this service. Well, you know what she has to say? She emails me back that this style is not available, and my back-up choices are limited to one color.

I've had it now. I email back I would like a refund please and I am not satisfied with the service on this order. Nothing. No answer back. I email again. Same thing. Well, now I'm really pissed off - and it is hard to get me to that level of irritation. So now I'm mulling my choices. But between everything, and the job search, I'm feeling rather..put upon in general and I hate feeling this constant, low level dissatisfaction with the world around me. Which is what I'm feeling now.