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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Light 'Em Up -- Fire Pits Within Portsmouth City Limits

By now, I guess everyone but me was aware that fire pits are allowed within the city limits of Portsmouth. I have now seen the ordinance granting this privilege and all the stipulations that must be met for burning a fire pit. I must say, I am bothered by the present policy. Let me address certain concerns I have about fire pits in town.

I will not get into the actual language of the code in this blog entry. However, after experiencing four fire pit fires next door in one week, I do have some questions about the safety and liability of fire pits. Perhaps, the ordinance should be reviewed and even reconsidered.

I understand fire pits have become very popular lately. They can be a source of warmth and joy for parties, intimate gatherings and simple marshmallow roasts. However, fire pits are wrought with dangers, and to ensure the safety of everyone, certain measures must be taken. And, even then, questions about additional hazards loom.

The City

Structures and flammable objects tend to be much closer in proximity within the city than in rural settings. Simply put, sparks and flames from open fires may cause fires on properties adjacent to fire pits. Roofs are particularly vulnerable to fire from sparks and smoke damage.

Should Portsmouth consider filing a permit for use of a fire pit? No such permit is presently required. In other words, residents can buy a fire pit and simple start using the pit without proper instruction or knowledge of code. Believe me, most residents have no idea what constitutes violation.

The city of San Francisco imposes fines on any resident who does not apply for a permit for a backyard fire pit. This is to ensure they take the proper safety measures, and also to reduce the risk of out-of-control fires. Permits also ensure that smoke wafting from fire pits does not become a nuisance to neighbors or nearby businesses.

Portage, Michigan requires that original permits will be issued to property owners only after an inspection of the site of the proposed fires. Permits are valid for two years, and a renewal may be granted without a re-inspection if no complaints have been received during the previous permit period. It is the responsibility of the permit holder to apply for a renewal if one is desired.

The Homeowner's Insurance

How about any requirements of disclosure to an agent? Without the right insurance, owners of fire pits may be risking liability for bodily injury and property damage. Allstate Insurance recommends that it's best to talk with your agent to get specifics for where you live. Some areas may even be prone to wildfires. Yes, even within city limits. Your policy may require disclosing your fire pit to your agent.

Whether or not your insurance policy requires disclosure, you shouldn't dismiss the potential safety hazards of owning a fire pit. If it does cause a loss, you may or may not be financially responsible for part or all of the damage. You need to understand that fire pits can be a structural fire hazard and are certainly capable of causing smoke inhalation damage when used improperly.

("Will My Fire Pit Affect My Homeowners Insurance?"
Allstate Insurance Company. September, 2011)

Personal Health

In Milwaukee, some aldermen are considering the fact that open burning is a health hazard and a nuisance. In some cases, residents have complained about the excessive smoke coming their way.

The Newport Beach City Council in California has voted to remove 60 fire pits at Balboa and Big Corona State Beach because of safety concerns.  Acting on a recommendation from the Newport Beach Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission, the council voted unanimously to remove the fire pits over concerns that they emitted toxic fumes and were an open child safety hazard.

The council was prompted to look into the safety issues regarding fire pits by a lawsuit filed by the family of Seth Richardson, who fell into a fire pit at Huntington City Beach last year and suffered severe burn injuries that hospitalized him for several weeks. Seth was six years old at the time of the accident.

The council also said that residents living at the beach have complained that the fire pits emit toxic fumes and smoke that pollute the air.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wood smoke is a complex mixture of gases and microscopic particles, and when these microscopic particles get into your eyes and respiratory system, they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and bronchitis.

Consider this alarming report from Clean Air Revival (Hall-Fairly). Their research discovered wood burning fire pits are more dangerous than cigarette smoke. These studies done on the effects of second hand cigarette smoke versus smoke produced from burning wood and the effects produced the following findings:

* "Each (wood burning) fire will emit close to one pound of smoke pollution" and "every pound of wood burned costs society $2.00 in health expense."

* Wood smoke is chemically active in the body forty times longer than tobacco smoke, is twelve times more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke and reduces the body's immune mechanisms by 20-40% against fighting infections.

* On top of the health concerns, the carbon dioxide emitted from wood burning smoke is bad for the environment.  

(Jane Hall, Kleinman, Fairley, and Brajer. The Institute for Economic
and Environmental Studies. California State University. October, 1994)

Logical Additions to Regulations

Keep fire pits away from areas with overhanging trees, buildings or other flammable and combustible materials. If there are trees, shrubs or plants in the area in which you want to build a fire pit, consider removing them. I even question fire pits close to grass -- grass isn't considered now in the city regulations. Isn't dry grass a highly combustible material? I believe so.

Always keep a fire extinguisher and a garden hose within reach of your fire pit. It is important that all members of the household know and understand how to use the fire extinguisher. Keep your fires small and manageable, and avoid using the fire pit on windy days. In my particular experience with my neighbors' pits, no extinguisher or hose was available nearby. In fact, the fire department used their own extinguisher and pitchers of water from the house (25-30 yard away) to extinguish a fire in a neighbor's pit.

Never use flammable liquids, like lighter fluid or gasoline, to start a fire. Never leave an open fire unattended. Before you leave for the evening, allow the fire to die down, and pour water over the hot embers to ensure they are extinguished. In my experience, smoke and embers were still visible the next morning in the pit. Of course, no one was at the fire -- one burned until noon the next day. I also saw a nearby container of charcoal lighter fluid there.

When Privileges Clash With Rights

If it becomes a continuous hazard -- a fire hazard or a nuisance to the neighbors -- people have the right to revoke the use of a pit. I was told a neighbor who is opposed to the use of a pit is to call the local department each time, which means a response with a fire truck and fire personnel will likely occur innumerable times, possibly without ever issuing a citation -- what a waste of taxpayers' money when some people simply do not want to be living within close proximity of a fire pit.

In fact, in my particular experience (after suffering the effects of four fire pits in one week), the fire department did not even completely extinguish the fire the first call, and a second call was required that same night to control the situation. Then, I was treated like a nosy complainer by the fire personnel who offered no explanation or assurance before leaving the premises. All laughs and apologies only to those operating the pit. Me -- just a problem.

Unattended, all night fires are a particularly dangerous risk. In Portsmouth, there are no restrictions on hours for using fire pits -- fires can continue long into the late A.M. and beyond. As you can imagine, that usually means alcohol and who knows what party supplies. Oh, they must attended all the time, yet the ordinance does not stipulate that "attendance" means "at the fire site." The people I talked to thought "attendance" meant just being inside the house where the outside fire was burning.

So, the fires in the city can burn continuously. I guess for consecutive days? Weeks? Months? Surely a better stipulation about how long smoke, cinders, and open flames from a single fire pit should be permitted inside city limits should be considered. Right now it's "light 'em up, and let 'em burn" as long as you stay with them.

In one particularly surprising revelation, I discovered that landlords of rental property in Portsmouth do not have to give permission to renters to operate fire pits on their property. I was told by the fire department "as renters, they have the right to light fires under the city ordinance whether the owner of the property has knowledge of the activity or not." In fact, I was told there is question about the landlord even being able to deny use of fire pits at his or her property regardless of a landlord's requests not to do so.

I would still suggest (despite the questionable code) that renters should be required to get their landlord's permission in writing to use a fire pit on any rental property. For the safety of both parties, I think the landlord and the tenants should each secure a copy with proper stipulations, signatures, and dates.

If you live in close proximity to a fire pit, you will not likely be fond of opening windows while the pit is in use or for a considerable time after its extinguishment. Smoke simply invades and chokes a neighborhood.

Gone are air conditioning savings on cooler, pleasant days and nights when open air is a neighbor's preference. With open windows, smoke clings to everything inside adjacent structures as well as choking the air of neighboring inhabitants. After the fire, I guess you could call the fire department to make a run verifying your objection to smoke inhalation and smoke costs for laundry, curtains, home fixtures, etc. Again, what a senseless waste of taxpayer's money.

The fire department questions the intent of my reminder to them that they are public servants and that we, the taxpayers, pay their salaries. They view this as starting trouble and being intimidating. I believe that is wrong. I have lived at my same residence for 40 years, paid my taxes, and reserve the right to question and to complain without being viewed as a troublemaker or as a senseless geezer. I was simply told there is an ordinance in effect, and I was to live with it. I feel I was treated poorly by those who attended the fire runs (especially since I waited until after the fourth pit in one week to report high flames more like a bonfire than a stipulated high "two foot flame."

All in all, I believe Portsmouth has some serious concerns about fire pits -- their operation and their regulation. I hold the Portsmouth Fire Department responsible not only for enforcing the regulations for each pit, but also for checking each fire pit operation for safety concerns. This is their job, and these duties should not be considered unnecessary requirements from a fire company whose first concern should be public safety, not individual rights.

But, what do I know? After all, I'm just an "invisible" 64-year-old permanent resident of the City of Portsmouth complaining after four fire pits next door as the last one raged at least four feet in the air. No reprimands were made to the pit operators; the problem became more my reluctance to accept the danger. And, that was it, except for pretty much inferring that I should "mind my own business."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Your Common Courtesy Increases Our Collective Consciousness

"Modern communitarianism can be considered a reaction to excessive individualism, understood by communitarians as an undue emphasis on individual rights, leading people to become selfish or egocentric."

("Communitarianism" The Common Good Versus Individual Rights."
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2015)

In Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985), the American sociologist Robert Neelly Bellah observed that by the early 1980s most Americans had become self-centered. Increasing prosperity from the 1950s, among other factors, had contributed to a decline in respect for traditional authority and institutions, such as marriage, and fostered a kind of materialistic hedonism, according to many communitarians.

Our trivial acts can be very important. Courtesy is an example. It is referred to it in many different ways, such as civility, good manners, good behavior, good conduct, politeness, decency, respect for others, thoughtfulness, kindness, and consideration.

Author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) described courtesy: "Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."

Paul Johnson -- English journalist, historian, speechwriter and author -- on February 15, 1997 wrote in New Zealand’s The Spectator, "We tend to think today that good manners and right morals are entirely separate. But the truth is, they are a continuum. Bad manners and high crime rates are all part of the same disease."

I think courtesy in American society has become increasingly rarer since Bellah made his observation in the 1980s. I also agree that hedonistic materialism has superseded the need for common courtesy. Today, so many people want to exercise rights and privileges, particularly ones that favor their own interests, without regard for the feelings of others who may be negatively influenced by their selfish personal behaviors.

Let me give you three examples that I believe show lack of courtesy.

1. Smoking in public may be a right in various places, yet some smokers give no consideration of how secondhand smoke and the ugly litter left by openly discarded cigarette butts affects others.  

2. Having a fire pit that burns logs in an close urban environment may be a right, but some fire pit owners care nothing about how the fire and smoke they produce poses a dangerous environment for nearby neighbors.

3. Talking in a crowded theater may be a right; however, those who carry on lengthy conversations and whose speech disrupts others watching a film robs the quiet moviegoers of their pleasant entertainment experience, and may prove to be a stimulus that creates a disastrous, financially and emotionally costly evening with friends or family.

Etiquette in a culture provides the code of conduct and thus lays the foundation for the basic pattern of social interaction. Etiquette relates to what is socially appropriate and is very socially grounded. Etiquette involves appropriate behavior developed from social customs according to psychological principles and from codes of behavior developed from the collective consciousness. In other words, codes for proper social interaction depend upon these two sources as they refer to expected etiquette:

1. Culture and Customs of nations, and
2. Collective Consciousness of the people.

Writer-analyst-speaker Saberi Roy, recently wrote:

"Culture and customs define the social appropriateness of etiquette and the collective unconscious provides the foundation on which etiquette could be developed or explained.

"The collective consciousness is a repository of emotions or experiences of the past and especially experiences of the ancestors or people who have lived within a society and these experiences are carried over in some form to the present generation. Usually the collective consciousness is felt through a sense of shared time, shared past, shared emotions, shared history, and a sense of shared responsibility."

(Saberi Roy. "The Psychology of Etiquette." November 18, 2010)

Are we losing a collective consciousness in modern America? Are we becoming more concerned about our own individual consciousness at the cost of depriving society of own caring, courteous obligation to our fellow man? I believe we are guilty of both transgressions.

It seems many animals have a much stronger connection to a collective consciousness than do humans. Of course, this explains how they instinctively can do things that they consciously have never learned -- like a colony of ants building an underground complex, a vast fortress complete with a ventilation system.

What many people no longer consider is that their DNA (the essence of the physical individual makeup of unique cultures and customs of their nation) has a direct influence on the collective consciousness of all, and this collective consciousness creates their reality. The could use their own DNA to respond to thoughts and feelings to influence the world. They could do so with courtesy and respect while following proper etiquette.

How joyful it would be to live in a community full of people who practice much less ego-oriented decision making and who commit themselves to practice thoughtful and considerate behavior that would raise the collective consciousness of the entire group.

I absolutely believe most of us have been taught to be good to one another on a very superficial level. Yet, our individualistic approach to life is so embedded in our American psyches as freedom-and-liberty-loving Americans that we believe our rights supersede common courtesy and etiquette. To any compassionate, caring individual, they simply don't. To these merciful folks, manners are often more important than cold, written laws that provide them the means to injure others.

The widely accepted Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim and ethical code that essentially states either of the following:

* One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (directive form).

* One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (cautionary form, also known as the Silver Rule of Hillel the Elder, (110 BCE--10 CE) Jewish religious leader.

To Christians, the Golden Rule is commonly known from the Holy Bible, Luke 6:31) The verse states:

"Do to others what you would want them to do to you."
Although easy to understand, easy to apply, and easy to teach, the Golden Rule erodes in an egotistical, materialistic, by-the-book society. Yes, I do believe courteous, trivial acts are extremely important. Instead of screaming "I have the right to do this!" perhaps more of us should be silently thinking before initiating actions and considering what negative effects our selfish deeds may have on those around us, the people who inhabit our undeniable collective consciousness that stands sorely in need of respect for others.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Despite What They Say, Public Servants Do Not Want the Public's Assistance.

In this indifferent society, people are often rebuked for their activism.

Just read the headlines:

"U.S. Envoy Rebuked for Religious Activism Quits"

"185 Arrested on Occupy Wall St. Anniversary"

"A Few Brave Local Politicians in Texas Rebuked for Just Trying to Talk About Drug Reform"

"Racism Protesters Arrested at St. Louis RV Show"

"Activists Rebuked for 'Bullying' Santorum Over Opposition to Gay Marriage"

The truth of the matter is that being an activist is considered noble and just as long as your activism coincides with another authority's opinion. However, most officials in charge prefer public indifference to efforts that promote direct social, political, economic, or environmental change. Why? Deliberate indifference creates a tightly controlled, less stressful, work day for those in charge -- an environment with decreased controversy and risk.

It is no wonder "things" normally operate this way. Authorities trumpet the need for "good citizens" to practice vigilance, proactive involvement, and documenting wrongdoing, but they do this largely to create a widely accepted positive public image of civil servants.

In truth, those "in charge" wish to limit public actions and do the work themselves because civil activism creates more paperwork, more investigation, more confrontation, and more tough decisions. Doing very little and smoothing over problems, even though these problems threaten innocents, is priority Number One. Don't be mistaken, old money and old influence rule in a stagnant "rich get richer" town.

I believe the concern for safety and the respect for the needed response of those willing to face wrongdoings, to report threats and harassment, and to stand against injustice should be the first priority of civil servants such as police, fireman, and other government officials.

I sincerely believe the lack of effective communication between the public and these officials creates crippled communities. And, by communication, I'm not talking about promoting fundraisers or sending reports to the local paper about completing duties as expected. I'm talking about increasing concern for all.

Standing on the law without compromise is logical even if the law is tailored toward offenders; however, being told by authorities simply "There is nothing we can do" or even worse "Just shut up; listen to me; I'm warning you to be quiet" pushes an unsavory authoritative response deep into the throat of those who often truly care.

Expecting quiet, defeated acceptance of "It happens all the time, and we can't do anything because we are hampered by this, that, and whatever" is the preferred reaction to any response call. In the meantime, the taxpayer who foots the bill for the salary of the public official fully understands the reality -- the activist is an enemy of those in power. He or she is unwanted and viewed with wary distrust. The activist needs to be successfully neutralized to inactions in the future. He or she is a senseless troublemaker and a bother to business as usual.

As a teen of the '60s and a young adult of the '70s, I learned very early in life the value of being active and the need for protest in the face of injustice. Since then, I've tried to carry on with activities that serve the public with needed change. I am no award winner or no hero or no esteemed member of any community. Yet, I have done what I consider my fair share for my fellow man.

Doing so is not easy and does present risks. Undaunted, I still accepted the challenges of the causes I supported and suffered the occasional setback. Though I have a belief in some forms of civil disobedience, I have respected authorities for doing their jobs, even when their superiors subscribed to philosophies I believed archaic and harmful to the general good.

I believe we have entered a time marked by acceptance of harm. It is an insidious harm allowed to exist because of politics, not politics in the sense of party but in the true sense of governing influence. This influence is clannish and believes the middle class and common people should only speak when spoken to.

Everyone voices their regret about the poor protection afforded to innocents, but today, the privileged living in higher-class environments and those lucky enough to find themselves graced with the other preferred demographics are the ones tenderly assisted by public servants. Others largely must fend for themselves. Or, they must simply accept indifference, accept berating and often unexplained commands, and silently bow to control. Authorities want them to be indifferent.

I am writing this to record my new commitment to do nothing as an activist other than write blog editorials. My spirit of "doing things" with my physical presence has been broken and is becoming weaker by the day. I believe many would say "Thank God the old busybody accepts the program." In fact, I have been told by authorities not to worry about neighbors or about anyone else but myself.

Neither do I condone nor do I encourage others to begin inaction. I am just sick and tired of feeling like a stranger in my own hometown. I no longer recognize the political and social climate of the place I have lived my entire life of 64 years.

I feel I have worked for change, and yet any future change is controlled by forces rife with injustice.

My town reeks of drug abuse, human trafficking, and immorality of many people in high places. It seems they have successfully corralled underlings to insure control and, most of all, to insure indifference and inactivity so as to instill a believe that "we can't do anything about it."

I am ashamed. I am ashamed of myself. I have done too little too late; thus, I have subjected myself to living the rest of my life under senseless control. Hearing public officials laugh and dismiss my simple efforts is fuel enough to make me realize their stereotype of me as "a nut case" is very effective. I am only valuable to them in the sense of my invisibility and my weakness to resist.

I advise you to listen carefully to officials -- justice, enforcement, public servants -- who work with you here in our town. Read between the lines they speak and write. I think they wish to operate without any disruption or interference from you. Think about what they really mean when they know of injustice and sorrowfully announce "We can't do anything about it."

Here is advice for following orders: vote for increased taxation, pay all questionable citations, bow to power and influence, believe officials who tell you they know who is crooked as hell but they are powerless to do anything about it.

And, believe them when they say ...

"We don't have the money to patrol or to do our jobs."

"We want to have better communication with citizens but don't have the time."

"We evaluate bad actions correctly and expect you to take all instructions without question."

"We really don't need or want your assistance -- just let us do our jobs without inference."

Now, simply reject the diatribe above as ranting from a crazy, old man. Don't practice being active and instead, go sing out, "I'm proud of being an American" with the faceless crowd.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Do You Know What Really Frosts My Balls?

From "It's the Little Things"
by Robert Earl Keen

"It's the little things, the little bitty things
Like the way that you remind me I've been growin' soft
It's the little things, the itty bitty things
It's the little things
That piss me off"

It seems like a good day to air it out since my little bit of acquired patience has expired and my "fed-up" internal thermometer reads 105 degrees. I have decided to write a Top Ten List of Things that Really Frost My Balls.

Things That Frost My Balls

10. No-call, Schmo-call. Press "2" to be removed from the list. Nothing seems to stop those incessant  solicitation phone calls from telemarketers. I hate the constant intrusions, especially from those who take forever to answer my "hello" and from those who speak broken English with indiscernible dialect.

9. It's like being in a real life Night of the Living Scuds at Walmart or Krogers walking among the skanky, unwashed, soiled-clothed masses who always seem to invade my personal space and finger the merchandise I'm considering buying. The Fugleys and Freaks need to employ soap and personal makeovers in the worst way. Could we install a "Too Dirty" alarm at the entrances to the stores that automatically ejects the culprits back into the parking lot?

8. I believe in prayer, and I believe we should ask God for His help in dire circumstances; however, when people beg others on Facebook to pray for their son's Little League team to clobber the opposition, to pray for the family to acquire enough money to buy a big-screen television, or to pray that the supermarket checkout lines are short, I'm not onboard. I think the Man has more important concerns other than supplying a person with convenience or simple satisfaction.

7. I understand that the vast majority of fast food and convenience store cashiers are employed in low-paying jobs, but when I pay my tab with my limited income, I expect a nice "Thank you" instead of an ungrateful "Here's your change" followed by cold silence. I would love to take these thankless employees back to the '60s when a dollar an hour or even less was the wage for hard labor. Get a college or tech degree if you are not happy; otherwise, say "Thank you" with a smile to every customer, no matter how much you hate your job.

6. My father was a long-time salesman and a member of the United Commercial Travelers who drove every day in his employment. One lesson he insisted I learn was that space between vehicles on the highway lessens the chance of a bad collision. I have tried to heed that advice since I was 16-years-old and received driving privileges. Now, increasingly, I get on a nice stretch of highway, set my cruise control on the speed limit, and approach someone on the highway I need to pass. I flip on my left turn signal, enter the passing lane, and that driver I am about to pass speeds up, leaving me abreast of him while another angry, speeding driver -- cussing, fingering, and fuming -- pulls his car within a few feet of my bumper to ride it without regard. In such situations, I figure (with my two recent speeding tickets), if I speed to pull ahead, I will surely get ticketed again. So, I say to the other drivers, "deal with it and get off my ass."

5. My wife goes on occasional rampages of rearranging things and putting them in new places where no human being with any sense of logical organization could possibly locate them. Then, I, the designated retired house husband, need something when she is gone, and I can't find it for the love of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Also, after these fits of hiding things, I notice a lot of my "stuff" is completely missing. Of course, I don't notice these strange disappearances until after trash pickup day, and by that time, my possessions are already in the city dump.

4. Why do others feel obligated to make me a part of their miserable situations without so much as trying to improve, moving ahead with self-initiative, and making significant changes in their lives? It seems to me more people today sit tight, expect the world to revolve around them, and genuinely enjoy dragging others into their personal plights. I'm sick of the incessant "poor little me" and "you owe me" attitudes.

3. As I visit and converse with friends and family, I notice all other heads pointed down while fingers peck at electronic wireless communication devices. The human-to-human conversation, no matter what the topic or the importance, is secondary to the need to multi-task on smart phones, computers, and iPads. I wonder if anyone has loaded an app that features voice recognition and automatically disables the device forcing the owner to engage in actual face-to-face conversation.

2. Those who subscribe to the "thug and biatch" attitudes and all their related theatrics push my limits of tolerance to the point of absurdity. When their persona screams "bad ass," it make me immediately wonder if all dignity and common respect have died. In the absence of skills for coping, these attack-mode amoebas use idiotic displays of brutality to register their need to dominate. It makes me wish that many would just "puff up," overinflate, and burst themselves into oblivion.

1. Large displays of body art, tats, tribal designs  -- permanent marks made on the skin by the process of pricking and ingraining indelible pigments -- these visible expressions of cultural and personal belief deface beautiful skin at an increasingly alarming rate. As artistic as they may seem to the person at the point in time they become etched into their epidermis, they also become highly prospective scrawls of future regret. Especially disturbing to me are lovely young ladies sporting highly visible tattoos that blanket their once-unmarked skin.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"I Get So Lonely, I Could Die" -- The Lost and Desolate


Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor's breast
And the harbor's eyes.

By Carl Sandburg

If you have ever lost all sight of harbor, the desolation is overwhelming. The feeling can be described only as wretched misery. Sandburg uses a boat, lost and in trouble, as a symbol of excruciating loneliness and the palpable suffering felt by those left alone.

It is important to understand the difference between comfortable "aloneness" such as solitude and loneliness. For example, if you are an introvert, you will be likely be more comfortable and happy in interacting with as few people as possible. On the other hand, loneliness occurs when you want to interact with others but you can’t -- Sandburg's "boat calling and crying unendingly" without success. 

Psychologists define loneliness as the difference between desired and actual extent and level of interaction. When you feel lonely, you are measuring the amount of social interaction you have against your ideal of desire for how much you would like to have. That “ideal” differs with each individual and can change over time.

(Ilona L. Tobin. "Coping with Loneliness." August 31, 2011)

Psychologists have even compared friendship to a staple of life -- food. Without assistance and inclusion as a social animal, you can fall apart mentally and physically. The effects are distinct enough to be measured over time, so that unmet social needs take a serious toll on your health, eroding your arteries, creating high blood pressure, and even undermining your learning and memory.

Loneliness can make you feel so sad that emptiness pervades your consciousness. You long for a contact -- a human harbor -- that you feel  isolated, distanced from others, and thoroughly deprived. These feelings tear away at your emotional well-being.

State loneliness is temporary and lasts for a short period of time. It is a normal feeling common to the human experience, but chronic loneliness marks maladjustment. It, usually, develops into a trait (trait loneliness), in such that it is a feeling that is stable and enduring. Trait loneliness is especially devastating to children -- it is most often the real reason behind most school dropouts. It sets in motion a course on which children become outcasts while developing delinquency and other forms of antisocial behavior.

In adults, loneliness is a major precipitant of depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. And it increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems, some of which take decades to show up.

Psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago has been tracking the effects of loneliness for a very long time. He has performed a series of novel studies and reported that loneliness works in some surprising ways to compromise health. Here is some of what Cacioppo found:
  •  In a survey he conducted, doctors themselves confided that they provide better or more complete medical care to patients who have supportive families and are not socially isolated.      
  • Living alone increases the risk of suicide for young and old alike. 
  • Lonely individuals report higher levels of perceived stress even when exposed to the same stressors as non-lonely people, and even when they are relaxing.      
  • The social interaction lonely people do have are not as positive as those of other people, hence the relationships they have do not buffer them from stress as relationships normally do.      
  • Loneliness raises levels of circulating stress hormones and levels of blood pressure. It undermines regulation of the circulatory system so that the heart muscle works harder and the blood vessels are subject to damage by blood flow turbulence.      
  • Loneliness destroys the quality and efficiency of sleep, so that it is less restorative, both physically and psychologically. They wake up more at night and spend less time in bed actually sleeping than do the non-lonely.

(Hara Estroff Marano. "The Dangers of Loneliness." Psychology Today. July 01, 2003)

Why Are People So Lonely?

A new set of studies indicates that the idea that lonely people have deficits in social skills, particularly the ones relevant to reading other people's nonverbal cues, is most likely wrong. Across four studies, Megan Knowles and her colleagues showed that lonely people are just as interpersonally perceptive, nonverbally, as people who are not lonely – and sometimes they are even more accurate. Something else gets in the way of the meaningful social connections that they crave.

The authors posited the problem is anxiety. Lonely people really want to form relationships, but they worry about whether they can succeed in doing so. When a situation arises in which they think they may need to use their social skills in order to bond with other people, they feel anxious. That anxiety undermines their performance. The kinds of skills that are at their disposal when they are not worried, are no longer there for them once their anxiety kicks in.

 (M.L. Knowles, G.M. Lucas, R.B. Baumeister, and W.L. Gardner, W. L. 
"Choking under social pressure: Social monitoring among the lonely." 
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 805-821. 2015)

Writer Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby"), wrote: “Loneliness is the ultimate poverty.” What a revelation. A person with friends has a treasury of love, but one without close acquaintances is without the greatest fortune.

I absolutely believe the anxiety lonely people feel debilitates them, stifling their ability to interact and causing them immeasurable suffering in their lives. This kind of fear feeds upon itself, and others tend to misread it and simply assume a lonely soul longs for solitude.

I also believe huge numbers of senior citizens feel desolate just like the "lost child" vessel in Sandburg's verse. In fact, in yet another study, John Cacioppo and the researchers at the University of Chicago found that for the elderly, loneliness is twice as unhealthy as obesity and is a major health concern. People aged 50 and older they monitored for the study were twice as likely to die during the study's duration. Compared to an average person, loneliness caused a 14 percent higher risk of death and adding poverty to the mix raised the rate to 19 percent.

"We are experiencing a silver tsunami demographically. The baby boomers are reaching retirement age. Each day between 2011 and 2030, an average of 10,000 people will turn 65," said John Cacioppo. "People have to think about how to protect themselves from depression, low subjective well-being and early mortality."

("Loneliness a Major Health Concern for Seniors, Also Contributes to Several Medical Conditions." University Herald. February 18, 2014)

So, it seems that age and meagerness increase what Abigail Van Buren labeled "the ultimate poverty" of loneliness. As difficult as the findings are to accept, you and I should ask ourselves how we might aid in stopping an emotional murderer operating in the "fog and mist" of friendlessness and seclusion. It is certainly a problem we hope our loved ones never face, but I believe loneliness can actually kill human beings. Perhaps, we should think a little more about rescuing complete strangers too.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Colerain, Ohio, New Tactic to Fight Heroin

Down with stigmas; up with new visions that save lives. Often, a task seems too daunting to tackle, and when a community does make an honest attempt to stop a serious problem, they find it very difficult to coordinate efforts among all response groups and initiate the consensus.

Prayers and hope buoy positive change; however, direct actions allow humans with good intentions to come together and realize miracles. When a crippled community and their public servants work together, committed cooperation allows them to take bold new steps that can make all the difference between an epidemic and a problem "on the run."

While a September 2014 “Ohio Health Issues” poll found that 1 in 10 (1.2 million) Ohio adults know family or friends who experienced problems as a result of heroin, Colerain Township, Ohio, was led to ask, “Is anyone in Colerain Township trying to do something to address this epidemic?” 

The answer in Colerain Township, the second largest Township in the State of Ohio, soon became “Yes, yes we are."

Firefighters in Colerain, Ohio initiated the option of leaving resource packets with patients saved during suspected overdose runs. The packets are filled with updated phone numbers of treatment facilities and information about addiction in general. Medics believe recovery resources may be just as effective when it comes to saving the life of a heroin addict as the medical treatment they give to stop an overdosed victim. They have handed out more than 100 resource packets since the end of last summer.

(Todd Dykes. "Colerain firefighters' program to fight heroin inspires other states."
WLWT5. May 13, 2015)

And public safety leaders in Colerain Township are going to launch quick response teams in June. Each team -- comprised of

* A firefighter/paramedic,
* A police officer, and
* A recovery expert.

Their goal will be to visit the homes of people who nearly overdose on illegal opiates.

"We arrive at the door, and we treat you as an overdose patient," Colerain Fire Captain Will Mueller said., describing how a quick response team will work. "We're going to ask you if you want additional resources. We're going to ask you if we can bring additional help to your doorstep. And by them signing a release, we'll be able to give their information. We will actually bring Addiction Services Council to their doorstep, and we're going to get them the help they need. We're going to bridge that gap."

But, before any of that happens though, Meuller said fire crews in Colerain have started administering just enough Narcan or naloxone to stabilize a patient in order to get that patient to a local hospital. Paramedics have been instructed to scale back on the amount of Narcan they give someone who has overdosed on heroin, so the person remains unconscious and they don't potentially refuse transportation to a hospital.

(Jay Warren. "Colerain Township Fire Department introduces
new tactic in heroin fight." WCPO 9)

"Getting them to the hospital was paramount," Mueller said. "In other words, if we treated them at the scene and we brought them back and they refused treatment, chances of them relapsing or going back to their old habits was pretty likely."

Mueller knows his department will face critics who will say the initiative is not punitive. "We are moving forward in this direction because we feel like it's the right thing to do," Mueller said. "It makes sense. We have talked to the subject matter experts, if you will, and they all say we're doing the right thing. It's an educational process, and it's something we had to become educated on. With the affirmation that we're doing the right thing, we're doing it, and we're seeing some success."

Mueller said fire agencies in six states have called him to find out more about the resource packets and quick response teams. In addition to Kentucky and Indiana, fire officials in New York, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia want to know more about what's happening in Colerain Township.

The department is a past recipient of the International Association of Fire Chiefs “Award of Excellence” and “Decade of Excellence” honors and was recently graded as a class two fire department by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). This ISO rating is the highest received by any department in the State of Ohio.

Response and Teamwork

The new initiatives in Colerain are formidable weapons against an opiate epidemic that overwhelmingly contributes to five overdose deaths a day in the Buckeye State. The thought and execution of such a plan is a tremendous achievement considering the vast differences in how to handle murderous substance abuse.

The three-pronged response groups effectively achieve maximum support for (a) saving lives, (b) maximizing efforts of enforcement, and (c) providing hope and recovery for those in peril. It is a compassionate commitment that offers public servants solid "punch" in a spearheading movement to improve the health of their community. Most of all, it is a very courageous, shoulder-to-shoulder march that defies political resistance and the ignominy of the drug problem.

In a David versus Goliath struggle, a well-placed "rock" can be a surprising weapon against evil. I wish Colerain all the success in the world, and I believe their tactic is an amazing feat of empathetic human response to a call to action we cannot ignore. Good luck, firefighter, police officers, and recovery experts. Thanks for being a model for Ohio and for the nation.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Meth Cookers: Domestic Terrorists Taking Lives and Costing Millions

Meth labs. I hate the potential danger posed by those who set up meth labs -- both stationary and
mobile. These dangerous operations threaten the life and property of countless individuals. I personally believe setting up a meth lab is an act of domestic terrorism and should be judged as so when criminals involved in meth operations are brought to justice.

Let me address stationary labs because I can find little, if any, information on the required cleanup from mobile labs although I believe a mobile lab is just as capable of creating the same risks.

Besides the potential danger of tremendous explosions and fires, which can injure and kill those in communities where meth is manufactured, hazardous waste and residual debris, generated through the cooking process contaminate the furnishings, interior surfaces, ventilation ducts, and the plumbing systems of structures. Substances such as acids, caustics, solvents, and flammable materials pose a risk to those who enter meth lab operations.

Methamphetamine is not only a destructive drug to the “cookers” and the users but also a threat to the innocent children living among these illicit activities. Those who believe in the sanctity of life have need to take the initiative and be on the forefront of the efforts in Ohio to assist environmentally compliant cleaning of these problem areas.

Contamination can occur in a number of ways through the skin, soiled clothing, household items used in the lab, second hand smoke and ingestion. The poor ventilation that results from attempting to seal in smells and add privacy increases the likelihood of inhaling toxic fumes. Exposure to waste by-products that have been dumped in outside play areas is also common for children living in and near meth labs. 

From research, it has been shown that these risks in stationary labs still exist even months a meth lab has been shut down by local authorities.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says methamphetamine has hit epidemic proportions across the state, especially in rural Ohio where investigators continue to find the remnants of labs strewn along back roads and highways. Ohio is headed toward the top of the nation’s list for seized methamphetamine labs, chemicals and dump sites, a new report shows.

Ohio ranked fourth in seized labs in 2013, as authorities uncovered 1,010 labs, chemicals and glassware used in the drug’s cooking process, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The unit broke down numbers in late March from the National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System, a database run by the U.S. Department of Justice. Data from the last three fiscal years show a steady rise in meth lab busts around the state -- from 375 in 2011, to 607 in 2012.

John Caniglia of the The Cleveland Plain Dealer, reported ...

The Plain Dealer“'The labs that they’re seizing (in Ohio) are the mom and pop styles,' said Ralph Weisheit, a criminal justice professor at Illinois State University and an expert on the drug.

“'The typical meth cooker doesn’t learn from the Internet or from a book. He or she learns from friends, from people. That’s why meth spreads like a disease, it goes from person to person.'’’

(John Caniglia. "Ohio moving atop the nation's list of seized meth labs, report says."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 02, 2014)

Caniglia warned readers of some unforeseen hazards:

"One of the issues that authorities fear most about meth is the garbage left behind. Many cookers carry their ingredients in a large box, mix them in a 2-liter pop bottle and grab all the product they can. Then they dump the toxic scraps and the packaging along the roadway.

"As spring comes to Ohio, many people will be out cleaning their yards and ditches. Groups will pick up trash along roadways. And that has many authorities concerned about someone finding a lab. Some have become ill or burned when they attempted to pick up remnants of a discarded lab. Are you concerned about this and are you taking precautions?"

Caniglia also reported, "Many rural county judges in Ohio have handed down eight-year sentences for manufacturing and processing to people who have turned their out-buildings into miniature assembly lines. Will the federal government pour money into rural areas? Many say the government should.

(John Caniglia. "Ohio moving atop the nation's list of seized meth labs, report says."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 02, 2014)

Summit County in northeastern Ohio has been a hotbed of methamphetamine production, leading the state in the number of labs busted, authorities said. The county sheriff’s drug unit found 85 meth lab sites in 2013, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

The Ohio legislature has debated at least three times how to ensure that any property where a methamphetamine lab is discovered is made safe. Yet no state laws or regulations have been enacted.

Meanwhile some communities are making their own laws. Chillicothe adopted a new meth lab law in March, 2014 modeled after 2008 legislation in Cuyahoga Falls in Summit County.

After more than a year of study, the Chillicothe had delayed a vote after Southeastern Ohio Legal Services raised questions. Among the organization’s concerns was a provision that required property owners to evacuate entire buildings immediately and board up the first floor any time a law-enforcement agency discovered a meth lab, no matter how small the operation.

Tweaks to the proposed law, however, addressed the council’s lingering concerns, Mayor Jack A. Everson said. Among them: The ordinance now requires only that the buildings be “secured” against unauthorized access. Everson said ensuring public safety was the council’s priority.

The new law will require property owners to reimburse the city for time or specialized equipment police and firefighters use in investigating the meth labs and for the property owner and/or the person who made the meth lab to hire professional cleanup companies to rid properties of any potentially hazardous materials before tenants can move back in. Those who didn’t comply could face misdemeanor charges.

The Columbus Dispatch.

Each year, as these hundreds of methamphetamine labs are busted by Ohio police, what happens with the drug residue and chemicals after they leave is no fully clear.

Proposed State legislation, sponsored by Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, and Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, would force property owners to pay for the cleanup and make the Ohio Department of Health create rules on how to remove the leftover chemicals. If the property owner was a landlord, that person could sue the dealer for the money spent on cleanup, according to the bill. Currently, the cost of cleanup, which averages $6,500 per 1,000 square feet, falls to state and local governments.

The financial risk to landlords is brutally apparent as is it evident most people cooking meth are not going to have a lot of money to recover. Still, the need for professional testing and cleanup services is expected to keep growing, experts said, as people become more aware of the potential health hazards of living in a former meth lab.

Landlords, hotel owners and others also are starting to understand the legal ramifications of renting homes, apartments or rooms used in meth operations without first cleaning them.

The cost of cleanup? Well, here is an example from costs seven years ago -- 2008. Tom Dubetz, who owns apartment complexes in the Akron area, was shocked when police busted a meth lab at one of his units in Kent. He said he didn't want to worry about the potential health effects for future tenants and he didn't want to be slapped with a lawsuit because he didn't do anything to clean up the property.

He also knew that the apartment would show up on government-sponsored meth lab Web sites.
So he hired Bio Clean to ensure the property would be safe to lease again. He estimated that he spent $8,000 for the cleanup and another $3,000 for new carpeting, paint and drywall.

(Rick Armon. "Meth labs spawn testing, cleanup industry."
Akron Beacon Journal. August 18, 2009)

Ohio is rolling out a federally-sponsored initiative that gives a shot in the arm to local law enforcement agencies. It's called the Meth Container Program, running now since the beginning of 2014. The state is one of ten states participating in this program sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Here is how it works:

The attorney general's office has placed five specialized metal containers around the state. The goal is to make meth lab cleanup safer and to save time and money for local law enforcement agencies dealing with this growing methamphetamine drug problem. The Ohio Department of Public Safety paid for the five, $7,000 units through a grant. Two more containers are planned, possibly one for the extreme northeast part of the state, the other for the south.

The chemicals are temporarily stored in the specialized container, located in a secure, monitored site  away from the public. All the ingredients used in the potentially explosive, drug-making recipe have been stabilized, but the containers have blast wall protection, just in case. A DEA-approved contractor empties the containers about once a week.

In the past, this process could typically cost thousands of dollars using contractors per-incident in many local jurisdictions. Now that cost has dropped to a few hundred dollars.

A big part of the program is education on how to package and transport the chemicals safely to the containers. "Some of the risks are a little mitigated,” said Sgt. Jared Collins, one of about 50 law enforcement officers from around the state participating in specialized training added. “It's still a hazardous work environment, but it's going to save time on the scene and time in protective gear."

(Chuck Strickler. "Ohio Launches Program To Make Meth Lab Clean-Up Safer."
WBNS-10TV. March 05, 2014) 

But ...

What about the huge cost in man hours, equipment, and other expenditures when a meth lab is found and local police, fire, medical, bomb hazard personnel, HAZMAT teams, and other service units must be employed? I cannot imagine the cost to the taxpayers. I heard an estimate from a local volunteer fire official once -- $18,000. I don't doubt this figure is fairly accurate for even a normal meth lab discovery. We citizens foot these outrageous bills. 

And, while the cost of handling the incidents can be tallied in dollars, the price paid by the traumatized and neglected children who live in homes where meth is produced is immeasurable. Also, consider the terror of neighbors and others who fear meth operations in their midst.

Here is a definition of domestic terrorism (18 U.S.C. § 2331) from the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

"Domestic terrorism" means activities with the following three characteristics:
  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and

  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
I think meth cooking operations are operated by domestic terrorists bent on endangering and destroying vast numbers of human lives while intimidating our civilian population. The mass destruction that can be caused by a meth lab is unthinkable. If criminals are going to continue to pose substantial threats to the public, they should be strictly prosecuted with stiff terrorist charges.

As a service to those who remain proactive, here are some signs for meth lab operations:

Spotting a Meth Lab

Many people may be living next door to a meth lab and not know it. Some of the signs that there is a meth lab in operation are obvious and easy to spot. In fact, you may have noticed them and not realized it.

Here are some of the things to watch for:

* Unusual strong odors (like cat urine, ether, ammonia, acetone or other chemicals).
* Residences with windows blacked out.
* Renters who pay their landlords in cash (most drug dealers deal exclusively in cash).
* Large amounts of traffic - people coming and going at unusual hours. There may be little traffic during the day and large amounts at night.
* Excessive trash, including large quantities of: antifreeze containers, lantern fuel cans, red chemically stained coffee filters, drain cleaner containers and duct tape.
* Unusual quantities of clear glass containers being brought into the home.

(Melissa Brunner. "Meth: A Recipe for Disaster." February 07, 2005)