There are three graphics going around Facebook these days that cause me to pause and contemplate. They’re supposed to be funny and the originator probably didn’t intend them to provoke deep philosophical thoughts, but nonetheless.

The last few years have just been something. I remarked the other day that having the rug pulled out from under my feet every 30 seconds or so should feel normal; it should no longer surprise me or provoke nothing more than an off-hand comment of “here we go again.”

Still, I’m surprised, outraged, demoralized, saddened, defeated or whatever emotion the Lucy-with-the-football moment has provoked. This proves something although I’m not sure what. Perhaps it proves that finding contentment in chaos is pretty damned difficult, but I suspect that any of the Buddhists of my acquaintance could have told me that. I wouldn’t have argued with them either because I am having a right awful time with finding any contentment, much less holding on to it long enough to marvel at the positive aspects of chaos.

I tried to abolish the rest of July the other day, but folks celebrating a birthday this month were opposed. In truth, it’s not just been July that’s been a problem so it was a flawed idea – a no solution solution.

Right on schedule, at about the age of 30 or so, I noticed that I didn’t know one single normal person. In talking with other people, I gather this is a rite of passage. Young’uns get this idea from somewhere that at the appropriate calendar moment they will enter the great society of something called “grownups” and much of the drama of the playground, school hallway and sports fields will cease. Decisions will be thoughtful and correct. Maturity and right-thinking will be abound and between bouts of doing the right thing, flossing our teeth, paying our bills on time, and running well-ordered lives, the “grownups” will look around, take a gander at what’s not working and correct it.

Poppycock. This is probably the worst fairytale we tell our children. “Grownups” are nothing more than children without the qualities that make children such wonderful creatures. Worse, the quirks of childhood solidify into something heavy, dark and dreary. There is so much that we don’t outgrow. And some of what we do outgrow, perhaps we shouldn’t. How I would have loved the other day to stand up and shout “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” But grownups don’t do that. If we’ve been through enough classes, employee trainings, and CEU conferences, we might say something like “That’s not my understanding of what happened.”

By the age of 50, most of us understand that “normal” is nothing but a dryer setting. But chances are pretty good that we’re angry about that truth. At least that’s my take when a statement purporting to state the norm is always met by a “but.” “But” is a result of the residual anger from learning the playground bullies are still bullies, the tattletale is still tattling and we’re still using rock, paper, scissors to solve problems.

Some of us embark on Sinatra’s “My Way” to navigate our lives. We’ve learned that the “grownups” aren’t, there is no “normal” and the Buddha is always killed on the road. We resolve to pilot our own ship, forge our destiny, march to our own drummer, yada yada yada. While we’re heaping those platitudes on the Chinette plate of our lives, we pass over Donne’s “No Man is an Island.” Perhaps we never had a teacher make us read that bit of wisdom.

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

John Donne

I’m not good at planning. I never have been, but like Charlie Brown, I continue to try. I set out from a to b with the simplest path in mind. I’m never very far when chaos reminds me I’m not an island and the rich, often rewarding, continent of my life is going to complicate the straight route I’ve planned.

I had plans for this weekend that were derailed before the first footstep. Before I could alter them appropriately, a tragedy unfolded killing folks I don’t know and I’m caught up in the tolling bells. While learning of that horror, I read of others and now Wordsworth’s “The world is too much with me” is complicating the hope of the Easy Way to prevail.


The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be

A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

William Wordsworth

Someone I knew, who died a few months ago, used to go on a media fast once a year to celebrate his birthday. For thirty days, he partook of no television, newspapers, Internet. It sounded like a fine idea, but I don’t have the self-discipline to effect such a total block. Periodically, I’ll declare a media fast lite where I refuse all but the lightest forms of media entertainment ignoring politics and the mayhem of what we call “news.”

Is finding contentment in chaos achieved by blinders? Maybe? Is it necessary to allow my senses to be assaulted by the mayhem with only literature as a bandage?

And why is it that I think if I could only restore order to my home, I could find some equanimity? I know this last thing to be true, because it’s worked so many times before. Is it because by controlling what I can, I buy into that childish myth that when I’m a grownup I’ll have the power to right wrongs?

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

I’m off to self-delude.


Guillotines, I tell you.

I’m not kidding.

While I sometimes do not agree with the way we use our Armed Forces troops, I support the troops.  Similarly, I’m whole-heartedly appreciative of and grateful to the workers of Appalachian Power who’ve had a hell of a couple of weeks getting (most of us) back up and running after the Derecho and subsequent storms, however. . .


Since corporations are people (and possibly boards, commissions, etc. etc., are too) and today is Bastille Day, it’s time for guillotines.

Appalachian Power’s customers have seen a rate increase of 50% over the past four years.  That increase might be more palatable to me if the reliability of my service was not declining more and more with each rate increase.  Significantly.  For the month prior to the Derecho, my service went out long enough EVERY DAY to necessitate the re-setting of clocks.  It’s become a routine, I return home and, starting in the kitchen, begin setting clocks.  Over the course of the past four years, a routine rain storm will leave me without power overnight or for several hours during the day about once a month.  Every day, several times a day, day in and day out, my power flickers.  I have lost many appliances, small and not so small, to the frequent flickerings/outages resulting in power surges.

The Derecho was historic and I appreciate that.  However, the U.S. Department of Energy has noted that, on average, it takes Appalachian Power four times longer to repair outages in West Virginia than the national average.  On the surface of things, one would attribute the difference to our state’s terrain and rural nature.  Well, Donald E. Walker, a technical analyst for the PSC looked into that factor.  He noted in a report that in comparison to areas of New York with similar terrain and similar instances of power outages, the reliability factor in West Virginia was below the norm.  Specifically, he said, “Other states with comparable operating conditions to those found in West Virginia reflect similar statistics found in the New York performance report,” Walker wrote. “It is therefore reasonable to expect utilities in our state to achieve the more stringent reliability index targets recommended by staff.”

However, Appalachian Power’s and the other utilities’ proposals for increasing the reliability of service in our state didn’t impress.  Ken Ward, Jr. wrote:

Officials from the PSC staff and the Consumer Advocate Division are concerned that plans proposed by the industry will do little to improve the reliability of West Virginia’s electrical system.

Last month, PSC staff warned commissioners that utility proposals would simply require companies “to complete work which was neglected for the past 10 years.”

Appalachian Power is not the first utility, nor do I suspect it to be the last, to rape and pillage West Virginia.  (And I don’t use those loaded words lightly.)

Verizon’s neglect of the communication system left West Virginia with sub-par telephone service and even worse broadband.  Frontier bought a pig in a poke and I won’t be surprised when they throw their hands up in the air and close shop.  After my hissy fit with good, old Ken, my phone service is stellar which proves it can be done (and could have been done), if more people had more hissy fits.  Guillotines, I tell you.

During my 6 days without power following a storm which followed the Derecho, I had a lot of time to cogitate and bitch.  I absolutely out did myself.  I did not bitch about the power outage, per se, I bitched about what I was reading all over the web.  I can’t prove it, so it’s anecdotal at best, but the citizenry of West Virginia in online forums, media comment sections, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were reporting that the out-of-state electrical workers that rode in here on their white horses to help restore us our normal state of unreliability expressed surprise at how poorly the lines and the right-aways were maintained.  I’m not surprised, are you? If West Virginia were anywhere near the national norm, I would have been 2 days without power, not 6.

And for this privilege, I’m paying 50% more than I was 4 years ago and 4 years ago I was paying more than I was in the four year period prior to that and on and on and on.  My service continues to degrade.

Even Senator Manchin, who I really don’t like, managed to get his head out of his, ahem, long enough to speechify about how the U.S. should not be spending money on the electrical infrastructure in Afghanistan when West Virginia is falling apart at the seams.  We’ll leave for another time my thoughts on what part Manchin and the rest of the  coal-crazy robber baron politicians have played in the not-so-benign neglect of West Virginia’s infrastructure.

In another peachy editorial in the Charleston Gazette, I learned that last fall Appalachian Power’s parent company gave $1 million to a “social welfare organization” that denies being a lobbying organization.  Take a gander:

What is it called when AEP seeks limited government for its subsidiaries? Limits on the government that enacts and enforces environmental regulations? The government that reviews and enforces workplace safety? The government that evaluates rate increase requests? The government that reviews how companies respond during power outages?

If AEP is concerned about our social welfare, is it not reasonable to expect they’d want the people of West Virginia to be up and running after a power outage at least as soon as the folks in upstate New York?  They’re not concerned about our social welfare, you say?  I’d say your right.  And to that, I say, “Guillotines, damn it.”

And with any luck I’ll be able to post this before my power goes out again.  It’s been up and down like a yo-yo today. For no apparent reason — just like all the days before the Derecho.  I’m a little crazed these days.  There’s been way too much life happening and it’s not going to take much for my transformer to blow.  If you read or hear about some hillbilly woman with a homemade guillotine taking hostages, I’d appreciate a bail fund as the Derecho pretty much left me without much in the way of surplus funds.

So, before I could publish this, AEP came rambling up my hill to respond to my earlier service ticket.  I had quite a talk with the cutie driving the truck.  I told him my power woes.  He assured me he’d heard it all before.  He assessed the problem.  The right-away needs serious work.  He was dubious that a work order would ever be placed.  He said, “I’m not telling you this, but you need to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission.”  I told him that I routinely file complaints and to-date it’s not done one jot of good.  We talked some more, he allowed as to how there were some forms and whatnot he could submit that might get them moving.  Old Ken at Frontier surprised me, so maybe I’m wrong in not feeling optimistic that this will be repaired any time soon.

Common Sense

Thomas Paine

On January 10, 1776, 235 years ago today, Thomas Paine published anonymously the pamphlet Common Sense

Besides other terrific stuff, he said in the pamphlet:

Yet, as the domestic tranquillity of a nation, depends greatly on the chastity of what might properly be called NATIONAL MANNERS, it is often better to pass some things over in silent disdain, than to make use of such new methods of dislike, as might introduce the least innovation on that guardian of our peace and safety.

“National Manners” is not a new concept but one we seem to have abandoned.  Indeed, Mr. Paine, these are the times that try men’s souls.

If you have not read Paine’s masterpiece, it is available online in it’s entirety.

Chris Needham needs a pair.

Buzzardbilly (my separated-at-birth-and several-years-younger twin whom I’ve never met) has been blogging here, here and here about Chris Needham’s bashing of West Virginia and NBC’s publishing of said article.

The story broke about a week before Christmas, but I’ve been lost in my own little world and didn’t hear tell of any of it until just a couple of days ago. The governor is furious and lots of people, rightly, are asking for a retraction, an apology, and a follow-up news story.

Upon hearing the news, I was disgusted and my ire rose, but not enough to drag me into the fray. I was just too tired. (And I call myself an Appalachian Activist. Shame on me.) Well, after a few days of round-the-clock sleep, I’m about as mad as a body can get. My panties are twisted and knotted big time.

What an ass! (I’m referring to Chris and not that part of my body where the twisted panties are.)

Now Buzzardbilly has a way with words and, really, she’s the best person to read to fully understand why the original news article was so offensive as well as why Needham’s and NBC’s response to the criticism was so woefully inadequate. NBC pulled the article from its website and the people of West Virginia (and only the people of West Virginia) got a sorry if you were offended type of statement issued only to a West Virginia news outlet.

Now, personally, I’ve never thought an apology you had to ask for was worth a shit in an outhouse, but if you do ask for one and you get a “Gee willikers, I’m sorry you were offended,” well that’s just an additional insult. Neither Needham nor NBC is owning the problem, much less making restitution.

No worries - the misspelling of Nebraska was corrected before mailing.

As much as it bothers me, I’m a Drama Queen. As such, I can’t bear the thought of being just another irate email, just another West Virginia blogger shooting volleys of words, or, worse, just another Appalachian sitting around saying, “Well, what can you do? People have been saying this stuff for years.” It is not because I don’t think the written word is powerful, but because chiming in at this late date means there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said. (Drama Queens just hate that.) Our point has been made (and re-made) and I’m pretty sure Chris and NBC stopped reading a couple hundred emails ago.

Now don’t misconstrue that last paragraph. I think it’s vitally important to send email and letters. Vital. Important. They may not read them, but they’ll note they’re coming in. It is also important to blog about it and talk about it. Inundating both Needham and NBC with our complaints will have an effect even if they don’t read our words.

But. I’m a Drama Queen in Good Standing. I have to work to retain my tiara. (It’s not all rhinestones, sequins and boas.)

So. I put my tiara on and sat to thinking. I came up with what I think is a pretty good idea, but I needed NBC Washington’s mailing address. Shouldn’t have been that hard to come up with, but it was. I don’t think NBC really wants snail mail, because the address is nowhere on their website. I was all over the web before I could find anything at all. I called 202-885-4200 and verified the *mailing* address. So, unless that woman lied, I mailed two bouncy balls to this address:

Chris Needham
NBC Washington
4001 Nebraska Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016


Bouncy balls? Yes, bouncy balls – ones the size of volleyballs. Pink ones, as a matter of fact. Two of them. And if it is true that NBC doesn’t want snail mail, I figure two, bright pink, bouncy balls will get their attention.

I know for a fact that if you take two bouncy balls down to the post office with the address written on the balls with a Sharpie and hand them to the clerk, the clerk will slap postage on those suckers and mail them off. No packaging (talk about environmentally friendly!) – nothing but bouncy balls in the mail sack to get dumped on some poor person in the mail room. (Take a moment to savor that image.)

On the side of the ball opposite the address, I wrote:

Dear Chris and NBC-Washington,

Since y’all don’t have the balls to issue a proper apology to the people of West Virginia or a proper retraction to your readership, I thought I’d help you out. Sincerely, Connie

And the second reads:

Dear Chris and NBC-Washington,

Here’s the second ball. I wanted to make sure you had a pair. Sincerely, Connie

I have hopes of provoking a smile on the face of that mailroom person. With any luck, said person will not like Chris Needham or be from West Virginia, or both. Now if it was me in that mailroom and a postal person handed me two bouncy balls, I’d be flying down the hallways to hand deliver those suckers. But it could be that’s just me.

Now I get the giggles thinking about what might happen if a few people sent Chris bouncy balls. Or more than a few. In that part of my imagination where grandiose dreams live, I think about hundreds of bouncy balls landing in the offices of NBC Washington. (Now savor that image.)

There are two reasons I like this idea: 1) it’s visual, spatial, colorful, and, well, bouncy (kinesthetic, if you will); and 2) it is permeated with a sense of humor. These reasons sum up West Virginia rather nicely, I think. Besides it’s just the kind of a thing a Hillbilly Diva Drama Queen with twisted panties would do. It’s not like I had a choice.

So, if you’re of a mind to, feel free to send a bouncy ball or two to Chris Needham.

Note: I had to do a fair amount of talking at the post office to convince the clerk that yes, indeedy, I could send bouncy balls sans box through the mail. She finally agreed.  They cost me $1.73 apiece in postage. If you do decide to send Chris a pair and your postal person balks, you might mention this company.  All told, I’ve got less than$8 invested.

Broccoli and the Importance of Staying in School

What are the odds of finding a photo of broccoli WITH cherries?

What are the odds of finding a photo of broccoli WITH cherries?

Back in 1990, my son’s teacher sent him home with a yellow ribbon pinned to his shirt – presumably my 5-year-old son was doing so to proclaim his support of the troops in the Gulf War. Never mind that when I asked him about the ribbon his explanation centered on the fact that the teacher gave it to him and all the kids were wearing them.

I had a melt down.

Now there ain’t nobody on this planet that is more supportive of troops than I am. I believe in a strong military. I just wish we’d quit putting them in situations that endanger them for stupid reasons – morally bankrupt reasons.

So. Small child. Yellow ribbon. School.

I sent him back to school the next day with his ribbon. The ribbon was attached to his shirt with a button emblazoned with “What if Kuwait’s No. 1 Export Was Broccoli?”

The older ones among us will remember George Senior’s statement that he didn’t like broccoli.

That pretty much put an end to my son and the yellow ribbon. [If I’d been a really manipulative parent, I’d have told Chef Boy ‘R Mine that the president didn’t like broccoli. Child of Mine loved “little trees.”]

It goes without saying that I had a rocky relationship with the Cabell County public school system.

Like I said, I support the troops. I do not support the use of small children to make political statements. I don’t like it when protesters, liberal or conservative, drape their kids in witty signs and parade them about the village green. First of all, it’s another case of treating children like property. Instead of putting a bumper sticker on our car, we put them on our kids.

[I maintain that the average school child does not have enough of a knowledge base to understand what the sign on their stroller, backpack, or t-shirt means beyond a superficial level. Therefore, in such situations, we are merely using them as a photo op – cuteness exploited to attract attention. Or, in other words, it’s my kid – I can do what I want. Property.]

Second of all, if I’m not going to slap a slogan on my kid, it’s a given that I’m not going to let some teacher do it.

Yes, indeedy, Cabell County Board of Education and I got off to a rocky start. A teacher once told me that children’s official school files were sometimes labeled with a PP. This code stood for Problem Parent and served to alert teachers that the parent they were about to call might provoke a need for an aspirin, a martini, or early retirement paperwork. I’m pretty sure Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s file had a red PP outlined in glitter. In letters about 6” high.

Some day I’ll tell the story about how a principal with a fraternity paddle was the proverbial straw and how the child of atheist/agnostic/pagan parents ended up Catholic school.

By now, you know where this is going.

Obama is addressing school children with a speech to encourage them to stay in school and study hard. Who could object to that?

As we all know now, plenty of people.

Here’s what I know. If either George had wanted to use school time to talk to my kid, I would have screamed blue bloody murder, slapped a trendy sign on my kid and marched up and down Rt. 60 in protest. At the very least, I would have kept him home. It wouldn’t have mattered if the purpose of said talk was to encourage him to eat cruciferous vegetables or study algebra.

I support the wingnuts’ right to get their panties in a tangle. To do otherwise would be hypocritical. I thought George I and George II were so dangerous and so devious that I wouldn’t put it past them to slip some sort of nonsense into the talk – nonsense that young children do not have the wisdom to identify or parse.

A big bunch of folks feel the same way about Obama. I think my reasons for suspecting the Georges are much more logical and well thought out than the He’s-a-Muslim-Hellbent-On-Killing-Grandma crowd, but that’s neither here nor there.

To do other than support their right to object would make me a hypocrite. I’ve got enough hypocrisy and contradiction in my life as it is. Hopefully, they’ll at least use the opportunity to keep their kids at home and discuss the importance of staying in school. Maybe if they look that contradiction in the eye, they might learn how to spot contradictory statements.

That’s probably hoping for too much.

I leave you with my favorite quote of the week. It comes from Tom Robbins’ masterpiece, Skinny Legs and All, and seems pretty profound at this stage of my life.

Contradiction may be an unavoidable trait in a many-faceted sensibility in an expanding universe, but bitterness is reductive in the most trivializing way, and Ellen Cherry was aware that it was her fate to have to struggle against it. Over and over, she reminded herself how fortunate she was to have landed her life in a situation where strange things could happen to it.

Favorite Quotes No. 1

During periods of so-called economic depression, societies suffer for want of all manner of essential goods, yet investigation almost invariably discloses that there are plenty of goods available. Plenty of coal in the ground, corn in the fields, wool on the sheep. What is missing is not materials but an abstract unit of measurement called ‘money.’ It is akin to a starving woman with a sweet tooth lamenting that she can’t bake a cake because she doesn’t have any ounces. She has butter, flour, eggs, milk, and sugar, she just doesn’t have any ounces, any pinches, any pints. — Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

Skinny Legs and All is, to my mind, a must read.  It’s a polemic disguised as a hysterically funny novel populated with a bizarre cast of characters not the least of which are a can of beans, a purple sock, and a vibrator.

This quote has been running around my head recently as I try to make sense of the various health reform debates. 

A friend of mine introduced me to this novel and I was amazed at her copy.  Nearly every sentence was highlighted, underlined and/or annotated.  The book is one quotable quote after another and tackles such things as Middle East peace, male/female relationships and whether or not inanimate objects are really inanimate.  It boasts a plot that is impossible to summarize in less than 500 words.

For years I kept the book by my beside and dipped into each morning using it as a source of daily affirmations – an idea stolen from another friend. 

It’s been years since I’ve read the novel from page one all the way through.  I finally finished the novel of Chinese erotica and was trying to select a new book to read when I ran across Skinny Legs and All.  I got side tracked from the new novel pursuit when I elected to look up the above quote.  In looking for it, I ran across some real gems and chuckled again.  I’ve read this novel all the way through at least 20 times (and I almost never re-read anything) and it never fails to provoke out and out guffaws. 

I’ve decided to re-read it beginning at page 1.  Lord knows, I need a good laugh as well as some big ideas to meditate on.

Godwin’s Law

All this Hitler/Nazi stuff about Obama and his attempts to reform our healthcare system is hereby declared null and void.

As many others have pointed out, the oppositions’ statements are often false and so ratcheted up with hyperbole that rational debate is proving impossible.

Moreover, according to Internet protocol based on Godwin’s Law, the mere mention of Hitler and Nazis does two things:

1. The person who drags Hitler and Nazis into the debate has automatically lost the debate.

2. With the debate lost, the conversation must immediately cease.

Since a lot of the healthcare debate is occurring online, I submit that Godwin’s Law is in effect.

However, the debate must continue because:

1. I haven’t had the stomach to wade through the guns/Hitler signs/death panels/socialism lies to fully understand any of the plans under consideration.

2. I am convinced by the fact that my employer pays an amount equivalent to 30% of my salary to provide me with a “good” healthcare plan (high deductible and significant out-of-pocket expenses) is proof that the system is corrupt.

3. I’m waiting for someone, other than me, to shout The Emperor Has No Clothes with respect to the “group rate” nonsense.

As for No. 3, I’m either missing something key or the rest of the country is. Here’s what I think: if I still worked at the university, the premium for my healthcare would be significantly less. Same body, same mind, same prescriptions, same doctors, and same insurance company and yet the small nonprofit I work for is charged far more because we’re a small group. Huh what?

A co-worker, who is following the debate closely and committed to the idea of reform, tried to explain this the other day. I was feeling uncharacteristically polite and didn’t tell him that he’d clearly drunk the Kool-Aid.

His explanation centered on the idea that because Marshall has a far larger number of people, the risk taken by Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield is smaller. When I spluttered and said “But, but. . .” he then used the car insurance industry as an analogy as if those crooks were paragons of virtue and right-thinking.

And furthermore, sitting on my kitchen table is a bill from my doctor. The charge was $295. The insurance company said, “Oh no you don’t” and decreed that the charge should only be $65. With the deductible and out-of-pocket provisions of my policy, I am responsible for that $65. If I had no insurance at all, I would have to pay the $295. I have no right to say, “Oh no you don’t.” Okay. I might have the right, but it’s not going to get me anywhere. If I was still working at the university (who would be paying far lower premiums for my healthcare), I would have long ago met my deductible and my share of the $55 would have been less than a third.  (If I were disabled or elderly, Medicare/Medicaid costs would be less yet.  And, yes, I’ve heard the argument that those two programs pay less than the actual cost of treatment, but I’m not drinking that Kool-Aid either.)

Same body, same mind, same doctor, same illness and same insurance company. 

What part of this makes sense to you?

Ignoring the nonsense of state lines having something to do with all this, why isn’t West Virginia as a whole one large group? If that were the case, theoretically, we’d all have far lower premiums because the group is larger. Right? RIGHT?

Same insurance company, same bodies, same doctors, same illnesses, same drugs . . .

Completely whacked, I tell you. (And I haven’t even got into the balderdash about hospitals losing money over the uninsured and underinsured. Anybody besides me noticed the endless construction going on at St. Mary’s and Cabell-Huntington?  Nor have I gotten into Big Pharma and the rate of new drugtores being built.)