Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Importance of Emergency Preparedness

I have been meaning to a do a post on this topic for some time now, but reading this article yesterday made for an ideal tie-in with the subject.

For those of you who might not know, the states that straddle the line between North and South were hit by an ice storm that knocked out power for days. And, as the article notes, "it could take until mid-February for some to come back online in the hardest-hit areas of Kentucky and Arkansas."

Below are some excerpts from the article:

At Murray University in southwestern Kentucky, brothers Jim McClung, 42, and Dale Earnest, 38, were among those resting in every corner of a university theater. Some sprawled in aisles, propped in chairs or curled up on the stage. They, like many others, ran out of food and water at their frigid, powerless home.

"I've been sitting 'round for two days, eating cold hot dogs and bologna," said 70-year-old John Grimes, describing what he ate at home before coming to the shelter. He uses a wheelchair, is blind in one eye, and a diabetic.

Jimmy Eason was among those who decided to tough it out anyway in Velvet Ridge, Ark., gingerly stepping across his yard, watching for icicles falling from electrical wires. He was headed to his Ford F-150 pickup truck, which was warmer than his one-story house.

"I'm sleeping in a car, which is just fine," Eason, 74, said. "There's nothing wrong with a car. Every couple of hours I turn it on, I let it run for 10 minutes and that keeps it pretty warm."

Eason was trying to avoid boredom, and drove to Burger King to get a meal because he was tired of eating cold soup.

The common thread in these and other vignettes from the article is that these people were absolutely unprepared to cope with a situation that would leave them without power for a few days. Some had no food to tide them through the crisis. Others who did have food had no means to heat it. And many had no means to heat their homes without power.

Last year, I started giving serious consideration to how my family and I would cope in a disaster situation. At the time, when the price of gasoline was on a seemingly unstoppable upward march, I was reading some Peak Oil sites. While some of these people struck me as going a bit off the deep end, ready to give up on civilization and living on farms or in isolated rural places with years of food and supplies stocked up to survive what they viewed as the impending collapse of society, it did get me to thinking. How would my family manage in a short term emergency situation that lasted anywhere from a day to several weeks?

The worst winter I remember is the winter of 1977/1978, when we got tons of snow dumped on us and everything was coated in ice. We were without power for several days, if memory serves, and we had to heat our food using Sterno® cans. Then there was the blackout of the entire northeastern United States in August of 2003. While the outage lasted less than 24 hours in my neighborhood, during its duration people couldn't, for example, withdraw money from ATM's or purchase gasoline because the pumps were inoperative.

So I had examples from personal experience, in addition to stories I read about or saw on the news, to provide me with some guidance as to what kind of situations my family might face and how we could cope with them.

It was clear to me that I needed to stock up on enough food and water to last us several weeks in the event of a prolonged storm, power outage or other emergency situation that would keep us confined to our home. Throughout the latter half of last year, I gradually accumulated assorted canned foods and bottled water. Being mindful of expiration dates, I didn't want to buy the canned goods all at once. It is a lot easier to maintain an emergency food supply if you only have to replace a few items at a time rather than replacing everything at the same time.

Besides having an emergency food supply, one must also have the means to heat it in the event of a prolonged power failure. I had previously purchased a mini gas stove that uses butane canisters. I then bought additional butane canisters to reach a total of 10. As a backup, just in case, I also purchased ten Sterno® cans, as I do not know how long the butane canisters will last in the event we have to rely on them. These are very important items to have at hand in an emergency situation. Not only will they come in handy at home, but they are portable and can be taken with you in the event that the situation requires that you leave your home. As the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, being evacuated to an emergency shelter is no guarantee that food will be provided for you. Portable gas stoves can be purchased at just about any store that sells camping supplies. The one I have cost me about $35, and the butane canisters cost about $3.00 each. Sterno® cans be found almost anywhere, including the local supermarket, though I had to order the stove for it online.

Among other useful items I got were glow sticks. While flashlights are indispensable, you don't want to leave them on all night during a power failure, otherwise the batteries will drain rather quickly. Many people in such situations will light a candle, but a lit candle is also a fire hazard. A glow stick, on the other hand, is a safe alternative that will give off light throughout the night so that you don't have to fumble about in the dark. I have about a dozen of them.

One important item I am lacking, the need for which is only underscored by the article I referred to above, is a kerosene heater. While I am well prepared to feed my family if Long Island experiences a winter storm like the one we did when I was 8 years old, we do not have the means of heating our home in the event of a power outage. I do have several electric heaters for times when our boiler craps out on us. Ironically enough, I am putting them to use as I write this, because, as happens occasionally, whenever we get an oil drop like we got today, the sediment in the oil tank gets stirred up and clogs up the fuel line. But the electric heaters would be quite useless during a power failure. Unlike a portable gas stove though, a decent kerosene heater, along with a week's supply of kerosene and accessories, can cost up to several hundred dollars. I came close to buying one at Lowe's last month, but balked at the expense. However, I might decide to take the plunge, as we are experiencing a rather cold winter this year.

Perhaps the most expensive item one might like to have at home during a prolonged power outage is a generator. A generator would particularly come in handy during a blackout in the summer heat, when perishable items can spoil in the refrigerator and freezer. Having a generator and a sufficient supply of gasoline would make it possible to keep the refrigerator running as well as the ability to operate at least some fans to help cope with the heat. A generator, as you can see from this web page on Home Depot, can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. That's a big expense for most people, especially in these difficult times when many are losing their jobs or sense the Damoclean sword of a layoff hanging over their heads. A somewhat less expensive option is a large battery such as this or this, which cost around several hundred dollars and can be used to provide power for charging cell phones, plugging in lamps, or possibly even the refrigerator for a day. However, based on the reviews for these items on, which you can read by clicking on the links I provided, these batteries do not seem all that reliable.

I don't think I will go so far as to purchase a generator, though it might be worthwhile having something that can charge a cell phone and power small electrical items. If lived in a rural area that was prone to ice storms or other weather events that frequently knocked out the power, a generator would be a wise investment. For the most part, the emergency preparedness items I mention above are affordable and do not take up much space. If you haven't already, I would urge you to think about what you would do in an emergency situation where you might not be able to get to the store to buy food for your family or to keep yourselves warm during a winter storm that knocks out the power for a prolonged period of time. Having at the very least a week's worth of food and water, a portable gas stove, and a dozen glow sticks, will cost you less than a hundred dollars and can make the difference between a desperate situation or an inconvenience.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bumper Sticker Idea


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pray For Compulsory Abortion

Sorry, but I couldn't resist the snarky title. It's my way of mocking the anti-choice signs and bumperstickers that read "Pray To End Abortion."

I'm a little late getting to this, but the other day was the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Of course, this brought out the anti-choice crowd:

Tens of thousands of abortion opponents rallied Thursday on the National Mall to mark the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade amid concerns they could face political setbacks under the new president. The rally and subsequent march to the Supreme Court came two days after the swearing-in of President Barack Obama, which many demonstrators said emphasized their need to become more vocal with their message.

It didn't take long for their concerns to be validated:

President Barack Obama on Friday struck down the Bush administration's ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information — an inflammatory policy that has bounced in and out of law for the past quarter-century.

This elicited predictable denunciations from members of God's Party, excuse me, the Republican Party:

"Coming just one day after the 36th anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision, this presidential directive forces taxpayers to subsidize abortions overseas — something no American should be required by government to do," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., called it "morally wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of millions of pro-life Americans to promote abortion around the world."

These guys need to get a friggin' clue. While they are so worried about the fate of a fertilized egg inside the uterus of a woman or teenage girl in the developing world, they don't seem particularly concerned with the dangers that pregnancy can pose for women.

From UNICEF's "Progress for Children : A Report Card on Maternal Mortality", comes this sobering statistic: "Each year, more than half a million women die from pregnancy-related causes and an estimated 10 million experience injuries, infections, disease or disability that can cause lifelong suffering."

The report adds, "Most of these deaths and disabilities are avoidable."

And while UNICEF's report "Progress for Children: A World Fit For Children Statistical Review" reports that child mortality rates are in decline, "an estimated 9.7 million children under the age of 5 died before the age of 5" in 2006.

So let's see if I got this straight. If a woman terminates a pregnancy, it is, to quote Rep. John Boehner above, "tragic." But if that same woman dies or is seriously injured from delivering her baby due to lack of adequate medical facilities, or the child dies from malaria at the age of 4, well shit happens, right?

Maybe George Carlin was right about these people after all.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Jury Duty At Last

Back in early June of last year, I did this post mentioning that I had received a jury questionnaire from the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Well, last month I finally got my summons and I have to report tomorrow morning to the Federal Court at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn.

Needless to say, I am less than thrilled about this. Then again most people aren't. Most people who get summoned and telephone in to see if they need to report hope that they are not required to appear. However, the best situation is to report for jury duty, not get picked for a case, and then not be required to appear again. Just serving one day and not being selected to sit on a trial exempts you from having to serve on a jury duty in Federal Court for another two years and state or county court for another four years. Since only a fraction of the people who appear are picked for a case, the odds are in your favor that you will not be picked.

And this is important, because as luck would have it, last week I received a jury duty questionnaire from the Nassau County Commissioner of Jurors. If all goes well tomorrow and I do not get picked on a case, that one day of jury service will exempt me from having to serve as a juror in Nassau County, though to be honest, I would have preferred to have gotten the jury duty questionnaire from Nassau County first, as I would much rather have served in Mineola than Brooklyn.

Anyway, I bought a book from Barnes & Noble today and have a Simply Asia microwaveable meal to take with me to the courthouse tomorrow so that I have something to eat and something to keep me occupied while sitting on my butt all day.

A Modern Art Masterpiece?

Last night when I walked into my daughter's room to read some bedtime stories to her and my son, they decided to play hide and seek with me and make me figure out where they were. Expecting that they were hiding in my daughter's closet, I opened the door and was greeted by the display above.

Turns out they had some free time on their hands over the weekend and created this elaborate display utilizing hangars from both of their closets. My wife tends to be anal retentive about such things and admonishes the kids for making a mess when they do things like this, but I couldn't help but be amused and admire their sense of creativity. When you consider some of the crap that passes for art nowadays, this isn't all that bad by comparison.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Absurdity of Hell

To paraphrase the famous line by the late comedian George Carlin about people who are against abortion, do you ever notice that most of the people who proclaim that if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior and that you'll burn in hell are the kind of people you wouldn't want to hang around with in the first place?

I got to thinking about that after reading a recent post by my blogger friend Andrea. In her post, she wrote: I have tried asking my friend if she thinks I'm going to hell and she replied with the most bizarre, rambling non-answer that I had the feeling that she just didn't have the guts to simply say "yes."

If there is a heaven and it is filled with the same self righteous Bible thumpers that you can't stand in this life, then it can't be much of a paradise after all. It reminds me of a recent post I did about the Taino chief Hatuey, who spurned the offer to convert to Christianity when he was told he would spend an eternity in Heaven with the same Spaniards who had murdered his people.

But for me, what really makes the idea of a hellish afterlife an absurdity is a Christian who forgets his faith when he becomes afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. What is his family supposed to do, keep trying to convert him to Christianity again when he has a memory lapse? What happens if he forgets his religion, spends money to have sex with a prostitute and then dies during the act? He died in a state of sin, right? So, does he burn in hell, or does God give him a pass because he was a believing Christian before he lost his marbles?

Those Darn Morals! Part 2

Regular readers of this blog may remember this post from last June, wherein I described an incident where I ordered an ice mocha from Starbucks but was not charged for it. I had walked out of the store without paying, but then stopped and walked back in and paid for it. It was a moment where my impulses came into conflict with my values, and my values won.

A couple of weeks ago I had brought my kids with me to Trio Hardware, a family owned hardware store here in Plainview. I can't recall what it was I wanted to buy, but when I was standing in line to pay for what I wanted to buy, my kids had each grabbed a small toy from some rack near the register. My daughter (age 5) had some octopus looking thing and my son (age 7) had a little frog that when you squeezed it, its tongue would stick out. My kids pleaded with me to buy the toys for them, but I told them no. I don't normally buy them toys on impulse like that, because I don't want them to think that every time I take them to a store with me that they are entitled to get a toy. (Yeah, I know, I'm a horrible parent!)

I told my kids to put the toys back where they found them and then it was my turn to pay for the items I wanted to buy. Later that night, my kids and I were down in the family room in the basement watching a movie. For some reason, I had opened a storage ottoman I recently purchased that was near the stairs. And when I looked inside, lo and behold, there was the toy that my daughter wanted me to buy for her. When I wasn't looking, she must have put the toy into her jacket pocket while I was making my purchase at the hardware store. I confronted my daughter about it and told her that she would have to go back to the hardware store with me the next morning to return it.

So, the next day, I dropped my son off at a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese in Hicksville and then drove my daughter to the hardware store. As I was talking with my daughter about why it was wrong to steal, she said to me that my son had taken a toy as well. We got to the hardware store and told my daughter to hand the toy over to the teenage girl manning the register. I explained to the girl what had happened, but she seemed rather nonplussed by it all.

An hour and a half later, I returned to Chuck E Cheese to pick up my son. After we had gotten in the car and exchanged small talk about the party, I hit him with it. "By the way, your sister tells me that you also stole a toy from the hardware store yesterday. Is this true." He admitted it. "Great!" I moaned, "now I have to go back to the hardware store again!" So, we stopped at my house first and I told my son to go find the toy he had stolen, and then we headed back to Trio Hardware.

When we got there, the same teenage girl was behind the counter, and I tried to imagine how ridiculous it would look to her to see me back there with another one of my kids to return a stolen toy. As I stood waiting for her to finish with the customer on line ahead of me, I noticed a woman standing near me who looked to be in her fifties. I assumed she was another customer. She looked at me and asked me if I needed help with anything. I told her no, and explained that I was returning a toy that my son had stolen the day before and that I wanted to make him return it to teach him a lesson. She then identified herself as Francesca Carlow, the co-owner of the store. She thanked me for bringing the toy back (not that it really cost much, maybe 2 or 3 bucks, but it was the principle of the thing). I explained to Mrs. Carlow what had happened, and she thanked me again for doing the right thing and shook my hand. I had my son apologize to her and hand over the toy and she thanked him and spoke to him in a very friendly manner.

I saw it as one of those "teachable moments," where my children could learn a valuable lesson by realizing that there were consequences to their actions. I explained to both my children that when grownups steal things, they can be arrested and go to jail. Hopefully, the lesson will stick with them.

So much for atheists not having morals, eh?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Would It Really Be That Much of a Loss?

Word has it that Islamic extremists have targeted Amy Winehouse for a possible hit in response to the latest conflict in Gaza.

Given her extremely turbulent personal life, including drug overdoses and frequent run-ins with the law, jihadists would probably be doing Amy Winehouse (and those of us sick of reading about her exploits) a favor by whacking her. I have to confess though that I am not familiar with any of her music, so I couldn't say if it would be much of a loss in that regard.

Friday Funnies - Lust!

Wallace ("Inconceivable!") Shawn gives a great delivery as the priest lecturing the Catholic boys and girls before the commencement of their dance party in the 80's comedy classic Heaven Help Us.

And as I like to say, getting advice on sex from a celibate priest is like consulting an Amish man for advice on automobile maintenance.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

How About Those Gasoline Prices: The Dream Came True

Regular readers of this blog may recall this post, from August 17, 2008, wherein I described the following dream I had the day before.

Early Saturday morning I had a dream. In that dream, I went out of my house one day and noticed something that completely astounded me. If I recall correctly, in the dream I was walking with my wife up the road to nearby Woodbury Plaza, and in the distance I saw the price sign on display at the BP gasoline station. What caught my attention was the price that was advertised for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. It read $1.75 per gallon.

Further on in that post, I added:

I think I can be pretty confident that we won't see the price I saw in my aforementioned dream.

Well, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, I am happy to report that after some four and a half months, the dream indeed did come true. Needless to say, I am absolutely astonished at this. At the time I had the dream, as I wrote in that post, I had no reason to believe it was even possible for the price to fall that low. I had resigned myself to never seeing regular unleaded gasoline fall below $3.00 per gallon.

As I wrote in this recent post, this is not first time I have had a dream or premonition come true concerning something really specific and in no way to be expected to come true. Being a skeptic about things psychic, I have to believe that it is just a coincidence. While it does indeed seem astounding, it is not impossible for such a thing to happen without it being a psychic experience. Still, I can't help but be amazed at it.

Oh, and before I forget, please accept my best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.