Rosetta

December 02, 2022

Buried in the back of the front section of today’s local newspaper I found an article about a request to have the Rosetta Stone returned to Egypt.  The debate over who owns ancient artifacts has been an increasing challenge to museums across Europe and America.  It has grown increasingly common for museums and collectors to return artifacts to their country of origin.  This is often the result of a court ruling but, in some cases, it is voluntary and serves as an act of atonement for past wrongs.  Nicholas Donnell, an attorney specializing in cases concerning art and artifacts, said no common international legal framework exists for such disputes.  Unless there is clear evidence an artifact was acquired illegally, repatriation is largely at the discretion of the museum.  As Britain’s largest museum celebrates the 200-year anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphics, all eyes have turned to the question of the ownership of the Rosetta Stone.

When I looked online, I found the Rosetta Stone is a stele composed of granodiorite inscribed with three versions of a decree issued in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BCE.  This was during the Ptolemaic dynasty and on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes.  The Rosetta Stone is 3 feet 8 inches (1,123 mm) high at its highest point, 2 feet 5.8 inches (757 mm) wide, 11 inches (284 mm) thick, and weighs 1,680 pounds (760 kg).  The front surface is polished, and the inscriptions are lightly incised on it.  The sides of the stone are smoothed, but the back is roughly worked, suggesting it would have not been visible when the stone was erected.  The stella bears three inscriptions: the top register in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the second in the Egyptian Demotic script, and the third in Ancient Greek.  The decree has only minor differences between the three versions, making the Rosetta Stone the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The stone was believed to have originally been displayed within a temple and was probably moved during the Mamluk period (13th or 14th centuries CE) and eventually used as building material in construction of Fort Julien near the town of Rashid (Rosetta in French) in the Nile Delta.  It was found in July 1799 by French officer Pierre-François Bouchard during the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt.  When the British defeated the French, they took the stone to London under the Capitulation of Alexandria treaty in 1801.  In a statement, the British Museum said the 1801 treaty includes the signature of a representative of Egypt, referring to an Ottoman admiral who fought alongside the British against the French.  The Ottoman sultan in Istanbul was nominally the ruler of Egypt at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.  The stele has been on public display at the British Museum since 1802.

THOUGHTS:  The Rosetta Stone was the first Ancient Egyptian bilingual text recovered in modern times, and it aroused widespread public interest with its potential to decipher the hieroglyphic script.  Since its discovery, three other copies of the same decree have been located, the Nubayrah Stele (limestone), the Elephantine Stele, and the Philae obelisk.  All three remain in Egypt.  The article suggested the reason for not repatriating the Rosetta is the vast popularity and tourist dollars it brings to the Museum.  This is also behind the reason for bringing it home.  Egypt’s antiquities along the Nile act as a tourist magnet that netted US$13 billion in 2021, a pandemic year.  The fact the stone was discovered in Egypt and removed as the result of war might also have something to do with the request.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Whataburger

December 01, 2022

I have taken the back way into town the last two days and noticed a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot at one of the major intersections.  The first day I went past I noticed there was a sheriff’s car parked in the road near the entrance and two uniformed officers standing at the driveway.  I tried to avoid being a “Looky Loo” and drove on by.  I was surprised to see the same situation (line, police car, and officers) again when I drove by the second day.  I could not figure out what was causing the traffic tie up.  Was this a covid test station I was not aware of?  Was it a free food giveaway popup for the holiday season?  I vowed to get to the bottom of the mystery when I got home, but before I did, I decided to read the newspaper.  The lead story on the front page concerned the new burger restaurant that just opened.  As I read the story it described the location and the precautions being taken to direct traffic in and out of the lot.  The story gave the address, and I realized the traffic jam was caused by the new Whataburger.

When I looked online, I found the Whataburger chain was started by Harmon Dobson in 1950 in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Dobson’s idea was to serve a burger so big it took two hands to hold, and so good that after a single bite customers could not help but exclaim, “What a burger!”  With this goal in mind, he named his humble burger stand, “Whataburger.”  By 1960, Whataburger had 17 restaurants and a year later the familiar orange and white striped A-frames housed the burger palace.  The chain doubled to over 200 restaurants during the 1970’s, along with the first drive-thru built in 1971.  This was the era when country music legend Mel Tillis started appearing in TV ads for the company, a role he continued through the 1980’s.  According to their website, Whataburger has continued to be owned and operated by the Dobson family and has grown to more than 890 locations across the country.  The newest one is blocking traffic in Fort Smith.

According to another website which ranked the fifteen best burgers in America, the Double Meat Whataburger ranks fourth on the list, just ahead of McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese (America’s bestselling burger) at fifth and Wendy’s Dave’s Double at sixth.  Burger King’s The Whopper fell to twelfth.  Culver’s Double Butterburger with Cheese topped the list.  Culver’s began in Wisconsin and features Wisconsin made cheese and a grilled Kaiser bun.  A 2015 survey by Franchise Business Review stated the “Culver Franchising System was rated No. 1 in franchisee satisfaction among restaurant franchises.”  There are 878 existing Culver’s locations (26 more planned) in 26 states throughout middle America.  Even though I have never heard of Culver’s, there is one existing location in Northwest Arkansas, with another planned for the same area.  I wonder if the new Culver’s will also feature a police escort.

THOUGHTS:  Sunday, September 18, was National Cheeseburger Day in 2022.  Determining the best burger in America has got to be subjective, but as I read the reviews it appeared to center around highest fat and calorie content (Whataburger’s Double ButterBurger with Cheese?).  Still, I envied the person who got the job of tasting burgers across the nation to determine which was “the best”.  Americans eat and drink about one third of their calories away from home, and in May 2017 the FDA established a statue on nutritional labeling for chain restaurants and similar establishments.  The compliance date was extended from May 5, 2017, to May 7, 2018, to allow “what opportunities there may be to reduce costs and enhance the flexibility of these requirements beyond those reflected in the final rule” (read, cut the calories).  I have since changed my order after seeing the calorie notices, and even walked out of one franchise.  Eating from a sack is convenient but is rarely based on nutrition.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Party

November 30, 2022

One of the displays when I entered the big box store was rows of crock pots and it reminded me, we are entering what for many becomes the “party season” as we approach Christmas.  When I was growing up my parents hosted a party on different nights during the week to allow all the people where dad worked to attend.  This involved nearly 100 people and mom would prepare cookies for months in advance.  I continued this tradition at my own work until I retired.  At first the party consisted of finger foods, but as I aged, I became bolder with my offerings.  Each year I would select a different style for the food I prepared (Mexican, Asian, Seafood, etc.).  That also meant I needed to collect a variety of serving dishes (theme decorated, tiered displays, platters, etc.) and containers (crock pots, warmers, ice buckets, etc.) to display the dozen or more dishes I offered.  I now have two shelving units with the dozens of items that used to be on display at my Christmas party.

When I looked online, I found a variety of websites touting different ways you can create a unique theme for your Christmas party.  These ideas ranged from an ugly Christmas sweater party to kid-friendly Christmas crafts to classic winter wonderlands is on the table.  The perfect party begins with the invitations.  While invitations to a small party with family or close friends can be delivered orally, a more elegant approach is written invitations requesting RSVP (also available online).  While Christmas (and your decorations) can be the theme for the party, it was suggested you might get inspired by your favorite movie or transport your party (figuratively) to a whole new region of the world.  You can have a family-friendly party, an adults-only party, or a funny party.  The possibilities are as wide as your imagination, and your willingness to make the required preparations.

After my son graduated from college, he was able to join me several times at my annual Christmas party.  I recall one party I gave that had a seafood theme.  One of the buffet dishes was a smoked salmon fillet I had placed on a silver platter along with small serving forks.  One of the guests saw the dish and asked if it had been cooked.  I told them it had been smoked, so it did not need to be heated.  She spent the rest of the party telling other guests not to eat the salmon because it had not been cooked.  This concerned my son, and he went behind her letting the guests know the salmon was not raw but was smoked.  Difficulty can arise when you serve types of party food that are different than what your guests are accustomed to.  I served these dishes to provide something else than the meat and potato meals my guests normally ate.  Some tried the dishes, others did not.

THOUGHTS:  When I was in Paris, I took the opportunity to sample a dish I had often heard of but had never tried, escargot (snails).  They were served swimming in garlic and butter along with small forks to dig them out of their shell.  Once I got beyond the thought of eating what appeared to be a fat worm, I found them to be excellent (who could go wrong with garlic and butter, right?).  No one else at the table accepted my invitation to eat a snail.  Someone else’s party can be an occasion to try dishes that may be common to them but new to you, especially if it is a buffet.  A buffet means you can taste and eat the dish if it is good or leave it on your plate if you do not like it.  Regardless, you should remember the time and trouble your host has taken to provide you with this tasting occasion.  Being a gracious guest is every bit as important as being a gracious host.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Poinsettia

November 29, 2022

Melissa was researching Christmas traditions and clicked on a site about the poinsettia.  We seem to end up with this flowering species every Christmas.  We have purchased them for ourselves, for others and had them revert to our house, and have occasionally been given a poinsettia by someone else.  When they first arrive, they are beautiful, most often bright red but occasionally ivory white.  The problem has always been they rarely last longer than the holiday season, no matter how late in the season we get them.  Melissa was perusing the site trying to discover why they seemed to die when she came across something completely unexpected.  The poinsettia is a type of succulent.

When I looked online, I found the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a flowering species of the diverse family Euphorbiaceae (yes, it is related to the E. Ritcheie is just wrote about).  The species is indigenous to Mexico and Central America and was first described by Europeans in 1834.  It is particularly known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays.  The poinsettia derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who is credited with introducing the plant to the US in the 1830’s.  The Poinsettia is a shrub or small tree, with heights of 2 to 13 feet (0.6 to 4 m).  Wild poinsettia plants occur from Mexico to southern Guatemala, but their populations are highly fragmented due to unregulated deforestation.  The plant is often thought to be toxic, but it is not dangerous to pets or children, and exposure (even eating) usually has no effect.  Consumption has been known on occasion to cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.  Unattended puppies and children will eat almost anything.

The Poinsettia is now associated with the Christmas holiday and are popular seasonal decorations.  The meaning of poinsettia at Christmas came about due to the Legend of Pepita and the Poinsettia during the 1800’s.  The legend goes that a little girl (Pepita) was going to her church’s Nativity but did not have money to buy the baby Jesus a gift.  She picked a few weeds from the roadside to create a bouquet but was disappointed with her gift.  Her cousin reminded her that a simple gift, given in love, is always appreciated by God.  When Pepita presented her bouquet, it bloomed into a bunch of vivid red poinsettia plants.  That is why the poinsettia is also called the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ (Flowers of the Holy Night).  Others say people use a poinsettia at Christmas because it represents the Star of Bethlehem, the light that led the three wise men to the baby Jesus.  The US sells around 70 million poinsettia plants of many cultivated varieties during the six-week Christmas season.  Many of these are grown by Paul Ecke Ranch, which produces half the worldwide market and 70% of the US market.  They seem to be able to keep them alive, so there is hope.

THOUGHTS:  Prior to being known as the Christmas flower, the poinsettia plant was called the ‘cuetlaxochitl’ by the ancient Aztecs who cultivated the plant for use in traditional medicine.  As early as the 14th century, they used the plants as a type of medicine to lessen fever symptoms.  It is also utilized as red and purple dyes for clothing.  The wild plant was domesticated and has now been cultivated into over 200 varieties.  Now that Melissa knows this is a succulent, she is determined to keep ours alive (we already purchased two).  The wild poinsettia was striking enough to be noticed and preserved by the Aztecs and has been passed on to Western culture as the Christmas star.  As a domesticate they represent a US$250 million venture, yet wild cousins are in danger of eradication.  Deforestation destroys species that provide miracle drugs and economic value.  Ecosystems are worth more than the money they produce.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Ritchiei

November 26, 2022

Melissa was prepping her succulents prior to our trip and came across a little oblong stub that had decided to bloom.  This was not too surprising as her succulents are transitioning from summer bloomers to winter bloomers.  During their dormant period of the year, the plants need very little care, with the minimum requirement being no water (I have mentioned this).  As they become active, their water needs are still sparse, but Melissa does like to spritz the soil and check the leaves and stems for rot or damage.  Several of the winter growers have become active this year.  They were planted two years ago, did little last year, but have now acclimated to the soil in their pots and the conditions of our greenhouse porch.  Melissa was pleasantly surprised by the number of flowers which bloomed this year.  One of these was the small red blossoms on the Ritchiei on Tuesday.

When I looked online, I found the Euphorbia Ritchiei, also known as Monadenium Ritchiei, is a succulent member of the Euphorbiaceae Family.  The species is native to Kenya and thrives around Meru, in the country’s Eastern region.  Ritchiei grows mainly on the rocky slopes of Mount Kenya at an elevation of 4250 feet (1300 m).  This dwarf clumping perennial blooms all year round and has a long life, “when the conditions are right”.  The species has a thick fleshy rootstock that forms a large clump over time.  The roots form thick tubers, which help the plant store food.  Ritchiei has a thick green, erect stem. The stems are horizontal with small spines which can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall and 1.2 inches (3cm) in diameter.  These spines are a typical trait of all the Euphorbia genus.

I am always reluctant to leave Melissa’s succulents when we go on trips.  Even though we have replaced the greenhouse plastic, Melissa is constantly monitoring the temperature to keep the room hovering between 30F to 50F (-1C to 10C).  If it gets much cooler, the plants are in danger of going into shock.  If it gets much warmer, the plants can drop out of growth and revert to their dormant stage.  This is especially true if either condition exists for several days in a row.  We have lost dozens, if not hundreds, of small cuttings and shoots over the last two years.  That is one of the struggles with being a succulent grower.  I am glad melissa is monitoring the succulents as I think it would drive me crazy.  I have worried about the Ritchiei since we have been away.

THOUGHTS:  Succulents are amazingly resilient and yet extremely fragile.  Most come from tropical or semi-tropical environments, and our Ritchiei is a good example.  Kenya is situated at 1 degree longitude (equatorial).  These plants have been transported and are now being propagated in cooler climes.  They often only survive indoors, or if they are transported back and forth from inside to out and then back.  Humans spend tremendous time, energy, and money creating conditions that allow many plant species to survive.  We need to do the same to create the conditions necessary for other humans to do the same.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Thanks

November 25, 2022

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and Melissa and I decided to make a quick trip to see family in Wichita.  Melissa put in her weekly hours and then logged off work around 1 pm CST on Wednesday.  We packed (yes, we should have done it the night before) and loaded the car.  I was surprised seeing we were taking more gear for our three days in Kansas than we had for our three weeks in Europe.  The air pressure in my tires had dropped due to the cold weather and I had not been able to find a place to get air.  I dropped by my regular service shop yesterday and they were already closed.  I went to three different air pumps and while I was charged US%2 at each location, the pumps did not work.  I dropped by my shop again Wednesday and they had closed for the holiday.  I finally found a station with a working pump, but it was so slow it took another US$4 to get the required 36 PSI into the tires.  It was 2:30 CST before we got off.  Still, we were going to family for the holiday, and I was able to give thanks for the expectation ahead.

We dreaded the drive because of the numbers of cars predicted to be on the road.  Since we had gotten a late start, it meant we would be passing though the only real city (Tulsa) along the way right at rush hour.  We got gas on the way out of town, and it had dropped another 10 cents (US) since Sunday.  This was well below the US$3 low it had reached earlier this month.  We filled up and began our 4 ½ hour drive to Wichita.  We drove through a light mist, but the predicted rain did not materialize.  The temperature stayed above 50F (10C) so the roads were not icy or slick.  Even the expected throng of cars did not materialize.  There was light rush hour around the city, but the roads were essentially clear.  We made good time and arrived in time to drop by mom’s residence before going to our hotel.  We were able to introduce her to Zena before the turmoil of the next day.  We were tired, but I was able to give thanks for the good day we had.  

We spent Thanksgiving at mom’s residence.  Zena was well behaved and happy to greet my uncle and aunt who drove in to eat with us.  Mom had reserved a place for the five of us for lunch.  The kitchen had set our table in the library, so we had a private dining room.  The meal was traditional, with turkey, stuffing and gravy, and green bean casserole.  There was a choice of pie (I got my new favorite, pecan) for dessert.  Mom led us in a “thanks giving” activity prior to eating, and each shared why we were thankful.  We visited and remembered the Thanksgivings at Grandma’s (their mom).  After they left, I was able to help get mom’s Christmas decorations set in her apartment.  When we returned to our hotel, I got a text thanking me for my help.  I mentioned it was good to get together with the Schirer Clan (now aunt, uncle, and mom).  Mom responded that our numbers had dwindled (there used to be nearly 30 for an all day dinner) and we had met in an assisted living facility rather than the farm, but it was still good.  I was able to give thanks for the good day we had.

THOUGHTS:  Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated on various dates in the US, Canada, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia.  It began as a day of giving thanks for the blessings of the harvest and of the preceding year.  Although Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been celebrated as a secular holiday as well.  Thanksgiving is more than just eating turkey and watching football.  It is about sharing with family and renewing relationships.  We had missed this time for the last years, and it was good to have the time again.  I was able to give thanks for the good day we had.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Turtles

November 23, 2022

The News section of the Thursday Edition of my local paper (yes, it is only Wednesday, but that is a whole other story) featured an article on how lighting on overdeveloped beaches is disorienting sea turtles.  The female turtles crawl up the beach to lay their eggs, and the hatchlings later use the light of the moon reflecting off water to orientate themselves for the trek back to the sea.  The lights from parking garages, buildings, and even flashlights from people searching for crabs can cause the young turtles to mistake the direction to the ocean and lead them toward busy streets rather than the safety of the ocean.  The Share the Beach organization has partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to identify the disorienting lighting and then establish a plan with the owner to retrofit the lights with amber or red LED lights that do not distract the turtles.  Share the Beach has 100’s of volunteers who mark the nests, set up protective barriers, and then assist the baby turtles on their return to the sea.  Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Green (Chelonia mydas), and Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles all nest along the Alabama beaches patrolled by Share the Beach.

When I looked online, I found Share the Beach was formed in 2005 by the Friends of the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores.  This program follows protocols set by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the federal endangered species recovery permit and volunteers can help protect the nesting sea turtles and their habitat under these guidelines.  Share the Beach volunteers patrol the beach, educate the public and school groups, conduct late-night nest observations, and assist with supply and equipment preparations.  The annual patrols for sea turtles begin on May 1 and end August 31, but the season continues through October 31 and the remaining nests continue to be monitored.  Share the Beach volunteers monitor all 47 miles of Alabama’s beach-front coastline, devoting their time to searching for new nests, marking them, and protecting the nests and hatchlings from natural and human-related dangers.  Turtles lay an average of 110 eggs per nest with an incubation period of 55 to 70 days.  Between 2010 and 2020, an estimated 70,786 hatchlings have made it to the water from Alabama’s beaches.

Once the turtles reach the ocean their human worries are far from over.  Research suggests that 52% of the world’s turtles have eaten plastic waste.  The reason is a floating plastic bag can look like a lot of jellyfish, algae, or other species that make up a large component of the sea turtles’ diet.  While all sea turtles are in danger of eating the plastic, the carnivorous loggerhead and mainly plant-eating green turtle were both shown to be consuming plastic in alarming quantities, according to a study from the University of Tokyo.  The loggerheads probably mistake plastic for jellyfish and eat it 17% of the time it is encountered.  The green turtles probably mistake the plastic for algae and eat it 62% of the time it is encountered.  The study found 22% of the turtles that eat plastics die.  Sharp plastics rupture internal organs and bags cause intestinal blockages resulting in starvation.  Even if they survive, consuming plastic can make turtles unnaturally buoyant, which can stunt their growth and lead to slow reproduction rates.  The accumulation of plastics at key nesting beaches also means baby turtles are at risk from plastic entanglement, preventing them from reaching the sea. 

THOUGHTS:  Six of seven species of sea turtles around the world are endangered or threatened.  There are ways humans can help save these species.  This begins with reducing your carbon footprint (climate change destroys coral reefs), reducing plastics (mistake for food), “Leave No Trace” when visiting a beach (trash hazard for nesting turtles and hatchlings), and avoiding sunscreen with “oxybenzone” or sprays that pollute the sand where turtles nest.  Small steps by one add up to large impacts by many.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Moon

November 22, 2022

Today’s NY Times feed featured the pass by of the Orion capsule of the moon yesterday.  NASA’s uncrewed Orion spacecraft dipped as close as 81 miles above the surface, marking the return to our closest neighbor since Gene Cernan climbed back into his lunar module on Dec. 14, 1972.  The feed stated that now there is a sustained commitment to going back.  For 20 years after Apollo the moon was, “been there, done that”, and the moon was not that interesting.  That changed in the 1990’s when people started thinking there might be water-ice on the moon.  If there is water on the moon, you can split off the hydrogen and make rocket fuel, avoiding the cost of lifting heavy rocket fuel off the Earth.  That was when people started getting interested in the moon again.

When I looked online, I found diffused water molecules can persist at the Moon’s sunlit surface, as discovered by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne observatory in 2020.  Water vapor is gradually decomposed by sunlight, leaving hydrogen and oxygen lost to space.  Scientists also found water ice in the cold, permanently shadowed craters at the Moon’s poles, and water molecules are present in the thin lunar atmosphere.  Water (H2O), and the chemically related hydroxyl group (-OH), exist chemically bound as hydrates and hydroxides to lunar minerals (not as free water), and evidence strongly suggests low concentrations exist for much of the Moon’s surface.  Water may have been delivered to the Moon over geological timescales by the regular bombardment of water-bearing comets, asteroids, and meteoroids, or produced in situ by the hydrogen ions (protons) of the solar wind impacting oxygen-bearing minerals.  Water is essential for making long-term lunar habitation feasible.

Kenneth Chang covers the space program for The Times and explained why it has taken so long to get back.  The US has tried at least two other times.  Logistically it takes about 10 years to plan, rebuild, and complete the mission.  Each new administration wanted to have its stamp on space policy, and any previous attempt was cut from the budget.  That changed during the last two administrations as each basically continued what was already going on.  The latest uncrewed launch is designed to test the SLS rockets, and the Orien craft itself.  While there have been small glitches, so far NASA has figured a work around.  The final test will come with the heat shield.  The craft will return at a high velocity, and they want to verify the shield survives re-entry.  The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it entered the atmosphere on February 1, 2003, due to damage that allowed the heat shield to be penetrated.  Burning up on reentry is not an option.

THOUGHTS:  One of the key drivers of the USA’s quest to land people on the Moon was a sense of competition with the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union poured money and expertise into their space program in the 1950’s and achieved several amazing fists.  By the early 1960’s it seemed the Soviets were going to be the first nation to land someone on the moon.  The Cold War was in full gear and the potential technological and strategic advantages the moon was a concern.  When the Cold War conditions ceased in the 1990’s the US lost their main rival, one of the key reasons for going to the moon.  Apparently, academic knowledge is not as important as military superiority and the programs stopped.  The knowledge required to get to the moon resulted in the technology we now take for granted.  The knowledge for habitation of the moon will result in a similar technological advance, and the global cooperation being formed has the potential to unite humanity.  We need to get beyond the quest for military superiority.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

SNAP

November 21, 2022

Amid the sales and holiday recipes that dominated the Sunday pages of our local newspaper was an article on how volatile work makes food-insecure families more vulnerable.  According to a new study from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, many low-income families are not getting the food stamps they need because of unpredictable paychecks.  The study found families with more volatile incomes were less likely to access the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because they found it harder to prove eligibility with constantly changing work hours, and this was amplified during the pandemic.  Families whose incomes fluctuate near the eligibility line are about 40% less likely to access food stamps than those whose incomes remain below the threshold.  “SNAP is a good program, but this is clearly a weakness in the program . . . that undermines some of the very households that people would be most interested in trying to help,” said Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who researches SNAP policies.

When I looked online, I found the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the US, formerly the Food Stamp Program, is a federal program that provides food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people and families.  This program is administered by the US Department of Agriculture, although benefits are distributed by specific departments of the US states.  SNAP is the largest nutrition program and is a key component of the social safety net for low-income Americans.  For most of its history, the program used paper-denominated “stamps” or coupons bound in booklets.  In the late 1990’s, the Food Stamp Program was revamped, and some states switched to a debit card system known as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).  EBT has been implemented in all states since June 2004.  Each month, SNAP benefits are directly deposited into the household’s EBT account.  Households may use EBT to pay for food at supermarkets, convenience stores, other food retailers, and certain farmers’ markets.  The amount of SNAP benefits received depends on the household’s size, income, and expenses. 

When a family’s monthly income goes down (a parent loses a job), monthly SNAP dollars increase.  When a worker’s paycheck increases (overtime), SNAP is supposed to be reduced.  SNAP recipients must carefully report increases and decreases in their monthly income, but this is harder when your paycheck varies dramatically from one month to the next.  Beneficiaries can also be afraid of making mistakes with their paperwork, as providing false income information can result in staggering fines and lengthy sentences.  In Little Rock, Arkansas, the SNAP application and income verification process was so complicated that nonprofit workers launched a call center in 2020 to help people with the paperwork.  One staff member said hungry residents can feel more demoralized by how many steps they go through just to get food.  Lengthy application processes and administrative backlogs are also a problem elsewhere in the US.

THOUGHTS:  The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is a joyful time of holiday parties and family time centered around good food and gifts.  For some, low incomes and food insecurity make this a reminder of their worries.  The financial burden of feeding children and hopes of gift-giving have effects on what families can afford to eat.  The holiday finds 15% of US homes where children are “not very confident” they will afford needed food, and 9% percent are “not at all confident.”  Seniors are also at higher risk for food insecurity, and 60% of seniors choose between buying food or paying their rising utility bills during the cold holiday months.  The high cost of medication and hurdles associated with traveling to a food pantry can compound these trials.  Quality food should be a right, and our responsibility.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Storm

November 19, 2022

I have mentioned how my response to bad weather tends to be to go outside and watch.  A storm rolling across the unbroken prairie was one of the things I missed when I moved from Kansas, and something I looked forward to seeing when I visited.  I always found the power of a thunderstorm exhilarating.  I also tend to look outside during a tornado siren to see what is happening (kids, do not do this at home!) even though we are warned to “shelter in place”.  When the sirens went off several weeks ago, I did what I usually do and went out to the back patio.  Zena was a little skittish at first as this was her first experience with a bad storm but seemed to settle down once she saw my reaction.  Later, my niece visited and when I mentioned this, she showed me a picture of her cat during the storm.  Chandler had paid attention to the forecasters and crawled into the bathtub in an interior room like he was supposed to do.

When I looked online, I did not find a reference for cats, but I did find an explanation for why dogs freak during thunderstorms.  Humans (at least most of us) realize thunder is just the loud rumbling noise that occurs after the lightning strike, and it is the strike that is potentially harmful.  The strike also charges the air with electric particles which land on the fur of the dog and cause static build-up.  Often, dogs do not know what to make of the way their coat suddenly feels, and in some cases the static build-up gives the dog an electric shock.  This is accompanied by changes in air pressure and the dark and foreboding skies.  These weather changes are ominous and can put the dog on edge.  Some dogs may even develop storm phobias, especially if they are shy or nervous by nature.  I would assume the same may be said for cats.

Storm phobia is a condition where the dog becomes irrationally afraid of any signs of a coming storm, including thunder.  Their reaction can be excessive and may put themselves or those around them in danger.  Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors are more likely to fear thunder than those who are sheltered from these natural phenomena.  Hounds, sheepdogs, and other working dogs are more likely to develop storm phobia and to have a profound fear of thunder than other breeds.  They spend more time outdoors which exposes them to the forces of the storm.  Puppies are also more prone to fearing thunder.  Any loud noise makes a puppy anxious, and they scurry to find safety and a place to hide.  Breeds with double coats struggle most with thunderstorms. German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Australian Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Border Collies are some of the breeds whose thick coats become a major liability as static increases in a thunderstorm.  The same goes for dogs who do not socialize much as well as rescue dogs who might have had traumatic events leaving them jittery and susceptible to phobias.

THOUGHTS:  Humans can also suffer from storm phobia.  Phobias are persistent, intense, and unrealistic fears, and specific phobias are related to certain objects and situations.  These typically involve fears related to animals, natural environments, medical issues, or specific situations.  While phobias can be extremely uncomfortable and challenging, therapy and medication can help.  During the first year of the pandemic there was a 25% increase worldwide in anxiety and depression, and 90% of countries surveyed by the WHO chose to include mental health and psychosocial support in their response plans.  Unrealistic fears around the pandemic continue to persist, along with a lack of regard by others.  Both responses need to be overcome for our world to safely move forward.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.