Monday, December 11, 2017

Homeless for the Holidays

The title of this post is the title of a movie Deus Ex Machina and I watched the other night.  We were looking for a holiday movie, and this one was available on Amazon Prime.  It sounded interesting.  Sometimes the synopsis is better than the movie. 

It's based on a true story, and many of the details remained true to the actual story (yes, I looked it up).  The gist is that this high level executive loses his job, and then, proceeds to continue living  as if he still has an income, all the while ignoring his ever increasing past due balances and calls from creditors.  For several months (movie time), he just waited and did nothing. 

And by nothing, I mean nothing.  He didn't look for another job.  His family didn't cut their cable, their cellphone bills, or their Internet service.  They didn't try to cut costs, at all, from what I could glean.  In fact, they even showed the faimly hosting a Thanksgiving dinner with friends, who, incidentally, had no clue that they were in financial dire straights with bill collectors calling every day.  In the Thanksgiving dinner scene, the cable stops working right at that critical moment when the guys are preparing to sit down to watch the football game after dinner. 

Their bills are mounting.  Creditors are hounding them (and they stop answering the phone).  The dad's car gets repossessed. 

The problem ends up being that the dad can't get a job in his field, but no one who is offering low-wage jobs will hire him, because 1) he's over-qualified; and 2) there's a nasty little bit about some work-related blunder the dad committed, which cost him his job (but it wasn't his doing.  Rather, he just took the fall for his boss). 

In desperation, the movie dad ends up working a minimum wage job at a hamburger joint.  To add insult to injury he's forced to wear a costume AND his former assistant shows up and starts taunting him. 

When he receives his first paycheck, it isn't enough to cover any of their overdue bills, and so, they go shopping.  Every event is a lesson in the way people without means are treated, and in the shopping scene, when the family is forced to ask the cashier to remove some items from their order, the store manager berates them.  I'm not defending the store manager, but when I have a finite amount of money to spend, I make very careful selections when shopping to avoid any possibility of that sort of thing happening.  The message in the film seems to be that this family were victims, but I guess I feel like there were a lot of choices they could have made that would have made some of their experiences very different.

At one point the wife applies for Food Stamps, but their application is denied, because they own their minivan, which is paid off, and the social worker recommends that they sell the minivan to pay down some of their debt, and then, they will be eligible for food stamps.  When the wife says they need the van so that the husband can go to work, the social worker tells her that they could apply for a bus voucher, but the caveat is if they end up "being a little too ambitious" and earn too much, they could be dropped from both the voucher program and the food stamp program.  This leads to a three-minute diatribe about the ills of the welfare system delivered by the wife to the social worker, who exclaims as the wife leaves in a huff, "They're not my rules!", and then, the social worker mutters, "I just have to follow them and stay on this side of the desk." 

In November, the electric company, tired of non-payment, disconnects their electric service.  Lucky, for them, they have a gas fireplace and so they still have heat (until the gas company also cuts their service due to non-payment). 

In fact, it seemed as if they weren't really paying any of their bills.  There was no income at all.  One wonders how they managed to stay fed and to put gasoline in the vehicles.  In the meantime, the primary focus seems to be the issue of the family being unable to afford Christmas presents.  Yes, it really did seem that the parents were more worried about not giving their children the standard commercialized Christmas experience, than that they had no electricity and couldn't buy groceries. 

Then, to top off this family's shit cake with a booger cherry, just in time for Christmas, the family's home goes into foreclosure, and they have seven days to move.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't happen that fast, but whatever.  It's fiction.  I suspended my disbelief for the sake of art.  The scene in which the family is vacating their home is narrated.  As we watch them exiting the house with plastic totes, we're told that they lived in their church for a few months until the weather warmed up, and then, they moved into a homeless encampment and lived in a tent. 

The moral of this semi-autobiographical tale is actually a moral, and the message of the film is religious in nature.  The film maker has reconciled what happened to him and believes that his trials were a message from his God about his lifestyle choices.  Everything seemed to be going great with regard to the writer's career and material wealth, but he states he was at a spiritual low.  When pursuit of wealth was no longer part of the equation, the narrative seems to be telling us, the man was forced to reconcile his personal relationships - with friends, with family, with the greater community, and with God.

Since it is a moral lesson, the following commentary on what this guy and his family could have done better to make their situation not so severe are probably not germane to this situation, but for those who find themselves in similar circumstances, but don't want to end up homeless, there are several things our protagonist could have done better.

As most of you know, my family went through nearly the same thing this summer - the loss of our sole income.  We were very lucky (or smart??) that things didn't go as poorly for us as they did for the people in the movie.  I mean, we're still in our house.  We weren't threatened with nasty letters from the utilities companies about disconnecting services.  Neither of our vehicles was repossessed.  I never had to apply for food stamps, or ask the grocery store clerk to delete some items from my order. 

As such, I have some advice for those folks, and others who might find themselves in the same spot.

1.  Immediately sit down with family members - all of them - and discuss the situation.  

In general, the advice I most often hear when it comes to children and family finances is that children don't need to know ... until they need to know.  As a kid, what this meant was that I had no clue about what my family's financial situation was, until there were things I needed as a growing child, but couldn't get, because we couldn't afford them.

We had a couple of bad years when I was in junior high school.  One time, my mother sent my sister and me into the store to get corn meal.  I don't remember exactly why she couldn't come with us, but I think it had something to do with our car and that if she turned it off, it might not start back up again.  So, she sat in the parking lot while we went into the store. 

She had given us just enough money for a 2lb bag of corn meal.  It was all the money she had until payday, and that corn meal was central to whatever her meal plan was until the check hit the bank.  Neither my sister nor I was very extroverted.  We were both timid little girls, and while we were old enough to shop, we weren't old enough to be practiced at it.  We went into the store, and when we came out and handed my mother the purchase, she exhaled in that deep, defeated sigh of someone who has nothing ... not even the corn meal that was just right in her reach.  We had purchased flour instead of corn meal.   We didn't read the words.  We just picked up the product that looked like the one our mother usually purchased.  It was awful.

I understand why parents think they need to keep these things secret from their children.  Money worries are tough for adults.  We don't want or need our children's youth and naivete spoiled by the same sorts of worrying that we adults have to deal with when it comes time to pay the bills, but the bill balance is larger than the bank balance. 

The problem is that, if kids aren't aware that things cost money, they won't learn to value that money.  Buying the wrong thing was upsetting - mostly, because we didn't realize how serious the situation was until we understood that there was no easy fix to our mistake.  It had never mattered before.  Parents who don't include their children in these conversations will have a hard time explaining what happened when they can no longer make their usual coffee shop stop for a Mocha Latte when they're out doing errands.   One day there's a Mocha Latte and without warning, suddenly, there isn't.  Most people's finances don't vary that wildly, and there's usually some events that lead up to the change. 

Keeping our kids informed about family expenses is a good idea, but if one hasn't been doing it all along, it will be imperative that one have a very frank discussion with one's entire family in the event of a job loss. 

Presentation is key, and it is possible to frame the discussion in a way that can be positive rather than negative.  For instance, instead of talking about all of the material things one will no longer be able to afford, one could talk about all of the adventures one now has time to do.  Children are incredibly adaptive and resilient, and if given the chance, they can even come up with some pretty creative solutions to problems that adults find overwhelming.

In addition, talking frankly with one's family members, at the beginning, makes getting them on board with the necessary changes easier.

2.  Cut all unnecessary spending.

It's important to have that initial conversation with one's family, because this part will be hard, especially if no one fully understands why it has to happen.

But cutting expenses is really important, as every little penny really can help. 

Start with the low-hanging fruit: magazine subscriptions; cable service; the second phone line (that is, if you have both a landline AND a cellphone, pick one and get rid of the other); subscription services, like Netflix; the Internet; any delivery services or cleaning services; lawn care; eating out; and coffee shoppe coffee (my personal Achilles heel, and the hardest change my family made). 

We love our conveniences, but when one has a loss of income, one will need to do those things for oneself.  Combined, those services can cost hundreds of dollars per month. 

But here's the thing: we can still have all of those things above, just different.  I can make my own coffee and bring it with me in a travel mug.  I have the tools and the ability.

The library, which is free to residents, is actually pretty amazing.  In addition to borrowing books (buying books was one of my Achilles' Heels, when it comes to cutting spending), one can also borrow magazines, CD's, and movies on VHS and DVD; use the internet; read newspapers; and take classes.  Some libraries even have tools to lend. 

There are other organizations that are designed to take the financial burden off of community members by combining resources.  For instance, imagine losing one's job, and among the services that have to be cut is lawn care, but one doesn't own a lawnmower (because the service has always provided the tools).  There is a Tool Library in my community, where I can access all sorts of tools from chainsaws and lawnmowers to pressure canners and sewing machines.  It's probably a good idea to look around for those sorts of organizations before there's an emergency, but it's never too late ... until it is.   The goal of this article is to make sure we wait until it's too late. 

Many of the services that we cut can be added back later, if things don't end up bad, but honestly, once they're gone, a lot of people don't miss them - like cable.  I know as many people who don't use cable as I know that do use cable.  It's not a death sentence to miss network Prime Time programming, and without the distraction of television, there's actually more time to do other cool things, like listen to audio books ... or play board games. 

The next tier is letting go of things that will be life-changing in some way.

Our daughters have been taking dance classes for most of their lives, and for us, cutting lessons would have been the absolute most difficult thing to do.  We were fortunate that the lay-off happened in the summer, when they aren't taking lessons.  If it had been at a different time of year, things would have been a lot more difficult, but it was a discussion we had, as a family.   

Other things that one must consider getting rid of include the second car (which will, hopefully, eliminate a costly car payment and lower one's car insurance bill).

Reducing one's other expenses will also be important.  Turning up or down the thermostat (and being hotter or colder) will save on fuel bills.  Eliminating the use of energy-sucking appliances, like the clothes dryer, will cut one's electricity bill.  I can borrow a meter that allows me to see exactly how much electricity each appliance in my home is using.   The tool is free from the library, but the savings can be enormous. 

Like with that important financial discussion, it's probably better to have done these sorts of things before the emergency, but making cuts after will help a great deal.  And it's never too late ... until it is.

3. Negotiate with Creditors on lowering or deferring payments

I was very disappointed that I never saw the family in the film doing this.  Probably, it's not as interesting as having the wife harp on her husband about the unpaid bills and then, throwing a stack of envelopes at him, but in the real world, when one is having money problems, being an ostrich about it is not the adult way.

Admitting that one has a problem and looking for solutions IS the adult way. 

While some creditors might not be willing to discuss lowered or deferred payments, some will, unless the issue has gotten out of hand already (too many unpaid months, for instance).

Some companies also offer an unemployment deferment, which can make things really helpful.  If we're able to defer even just one of our monthly obligations while unemployed, that could be hundreds of dollars in savings a month.  Those payments will be tacked onto the end of the loan - with interest (which I learned the hard way with regard to my student loans) - but sometimes a short-term solution gives us time to plan for a long-term fix. 

Also, one should have some understanding of the law with regard to creditors and collections agencies.  In the film, the family's electricity is cut in December.  Here in Maine it is illegal for the electric company to cut power during the winter.  Understanding one's rights could be helpful if one is being forced to cherry pick which bills are a priority. 

4.  Hone skills so that you can be a little more self-sufficient.

There was a television show when I was a kid called "Eight is Enough."  It was the story of a widower with eight children and their adventures as a family.  Most of the eight children were teenagers or young adults (still living at home).

One Christmas, their home was burglarized on Christmas Eve and the family woke on Christmas morning to an empty tree.  It was a little like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, especially in that the youngest child, Nicholas, suggested that they make Christmas, and the beauty of the story lies in the family members' efforts to make (on very short notice) things to share with their siblings and parents.  It was a heart-warming episode (and they caught the burglar in the end - a lonely, bitter, old man - and shared their Christmas with him), with the same message that all such programs seem to impart - Christmas doesn't come from a store ... yada, yada. 

It's not the religious side of the message that is important, to me.  It's the fact that the family in the program had the creativity ... and the ability! ... to make things on short notice rather than depending on someone else to make it for them.

For people facing a job loss or other income straining incidents, the ability to do things for oneself can be the thing that makes or breaks them. 

Being able to cook one's own food saves a bundle over what it costs to eat out.  Bonus points if one can grow the food, too! 

Being able to make and/or repair clothes, can save hundreds of dollars over the cost of replacing worn out items.  My Merino wool socks cost $9 per pair.  I learned to darn socks, because replacing them is costly, and if I don't have to, I'd prefer not to settle for cheaper socks. 

Cutting one's own hair (and that of family members) can be a huge savings.   A few years ago we bought a set of clippers.  It was a big investment at the time, but they've more than paid for themselves in what we've saved in haircuts for Deus Ex Machina.  Even the less expensive hair salons are still more costly than DIY hair cuts, plus there's the potential of getting a stylist who gets distracted and cuts too much from one side, leaving a significantly short (nearly bald) spot on one side of my head.  I still have to pay her for that ratty haircut.  The problem is that if I'm going to have to live with a bad haircut, I might as well do it myself.  It's easier to live with a bad haircut when it was free. 

Home repairs, home decorating, and remodeling are another area where we can DIY to save a bunch of money.  But there's an added bonus to tackling these things, at all.  It feels good when one's space is spruced up.  Decluttering, painting, putting down tile or reclaimed wood, or just moving decor items out of the closet and into a visible space to create a new look makes us feel better, and when our homes are in good repair, we feel less poor, regardless of our financial health. 

The bottom line is that if we can do it for ourselves, we don't have to pay someone else to do it, and the less we spend having other people take care of us, the less we need to earn, which brings me to the final point.

5.  Assume this is long-term ... or forever.  

There's a joke about how many poor people in America view themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.  I don't know if it's a uniquely American trait, or if it's true of other places, as well, but there seems to be a prevalence of individuals in our country who suffer financial insecurities, because they don't believe their bank statements. 

There are no guarantees when it comes to jobs and incomes, and even if we seem to be thriving at one point, history should be teaching us that *IT* could happen to any one of us, at any point in time, and when it does, things can be very bad ... or not.  It's really up to how we address the situation. 

When we have a good job, and we lose that job for whatever reason, there's no guarantee that we're going to find a comparable salary at a new job.  One of my favorite early 20th Century pieces of fiction is Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser.  The main character is Carrie, a young woman who ends up being manipulated into a kind of mistress situation.  Hurstwood, her amour, is a married man, and in order to keep her from leaving him for a younger, unmarried suitor, Hurstwood sweeps her away.  In the process, he leaves his wife and quits his job, and because he also steals from his employer, he needs to get as far away as he can. 

Hurstwood makes a lot of stupid blunders (like running off with another woman isn't bad enough, right?), but his stupidest mistake is his unwillingness to accept his plight and to work with what he has, rather than believing that he deserves what he so easily tossed away.  That is, he is an adulterer, a thief, and likely a wanted man, but his pride prevents him from taking gainful employment, which he believes is beneath him.   And so he slips into extreme poverty, losses Carrie, who leaves him because he won't even try to support himself,  and comes to a very sad end at one of those dreary rooming houses where people can stay a day or for a few hours.

The rest of us can look to Hurstwood and to the family in the movie as examples of what not to do.  When there's a loss of income, we have to make plans for a future that may not include a return to our former income level ... but you know what?  That's okay.  Living with less money is not a failure, and people who can be resilient enough to thrive on less when they had been earning more are the world's super-stars - not the people who start with nothing and rise to the top (and too often subsequently fall).  It's far easier to start with nothing and build something than it is to start with something and have to figure out how repair that something when it falls apart.

Which is actually a really great analogy, because there's this propensity in our world to believe that new is better.  The belief is that it's cheaper and easier to buy a new house (or car or pair of shoes) than it is to maintain the things we have.

And that's the final point:  learning to do what we can with what we have where we are is my personal mantra. 

The result of living that mantra was that this past summer, when Deus Ex Machina didn't have a job, and we had no idea of when or if that would change, we were able to thrive rather than sink into panic, because we had the desire, the knowledge, and the skill to do things for ourselves. 

We refinished our room ... and it looks AMAZING!  Did I mention that it really looks good and is super comfy and warm? 

We harvested wood for our winter's heat.

We planted, tended and harvested one of the best gardens we've had in years.

I made skirts out of Deus Ex Machina's old t-shirts.

Deus Ex Machina took some time to figure out what he wanted to do and started working toward making those things happen. 

The point is that we grabbed life by cojones and whispered, "Let's dance!"  Rather than sitting in the corner waiting for someone to swoop down and lead us to the floor.  Unlike the family in the above mentioned film, we took control of our own fate, and the result was fabulous!
     

Sunday, December 3, 2017

How to Eat Right

I've spent a lot of years exploring the ethics of eating.  I've read HUNDREDS of articles and books about the topic. 

There is a lot of back and forth regarding the best way to eat, and there have been some really strong voices on both sides of the argument. 

The founders of the 1970s back-to-the-land movement, Scott and Helen Nearing, were vegetarians, and they promoted a lifestyle that included no animal products, based on Helen's very vocal aversion to "keeping" animals.  The paradox, however, is that Helen had a pet (which seemed to contradict her very adamant attitude that animals should not be enslaved to humans), and the Nearings were also malnourished.  That is, they needed to be administered Vitamin B12 shots by a physician, because there was no plant-based product available to them that contained this essential vitamin.  Indeed the only commonly known plant-based source for B12 is seaweed (there are also some studies that show mushrooms might have some dietary B12 available). 

So that previous paragraph is all from memory of a study I read about vegetable sources for B12.  I don't have sources to cite.  My point is that I have done this research before, because I really do want to do what's best.

Unfortunately, people who eat non-meat based diets usually do so because of some professed ethical aversion to eating animals.  And that's fine.  I don't, actually, give a shit what other people eat, and I also don't care all that much why they've chosen that diet.  Don't eat anything with a face?  Good for you!  I won't feed you chicken, if you don't feed me GMOs. 

What I do give a shit about is being attacked because I have made different - well-researched and long-agonized-over - choices.  But I don't have the time or the energy or the desire (actually) to defend my dietary choices against an onslaught of misdirected accusations. 

As we know, though, I don't take this kind of thing lying down.  While I will often stop discussing it with the close-minded individual who accuses me of things I didn't say (because there are often other people in the conversation, too, but I get blamed for everything that's said) or just ignores what I am saying in favor of fueling his/her moral superiority about what they believe is my intent (without asking or without knowing anything more about me than a few words said about one topic), I don't stop thinking about it.

My goal, therefore, was to find a definitive answer to the question: What is the most ethical way to eat?

I was hoping that I could find a real study (not one sponsored by a vegan organization that says eating any animal-based product is bad or by the Cattle Association of America, which says we should eat more beef, because beef is good). 

We all already know all of the stories about how awful CAFOs are for the animals.  We know about the animal abuses in chicken houses in rural Georgia and how pigs are mistreated by Smithfield Farms.  No one, including me, is questioning whether or not we should continue to support these factory farms.  The answer is that we shouldn't, and the result of avoiding that industry, for my family, is that we eat a lot less meat, in general. 

There are a lot of articles that debunk the notion that a vegetarian diet is completely ethical.  There are also many articles that point out the fallacy in believing that a vegan diet is healthier.  Among the evidence is that 40% of the people living in India are vegetarian/vegan, but they have the same health issues that we, here in America, have. 

The two healthiest populations in the world are the French and the Japanese, neither of which follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.  In fact, anecdotal accounts of vegetarian tourists in Japan speak to the difficulty of finding foods that do not contain some animal product (usually fish sauce or the like). 

The French diet was dubbed a paradox, because the French have low rates of diet-related diseases and weigh less (compared to Americans), while eating a diet that seems to be rich in all of the foods that make Americans so sick.  Research seems to indicate that it isn't so much what the French eat, but rather how and how much (compared to Americans).

Health-wise a vegan diet is not superior, but neither is a vegan diet more environmentally pure.  This article lists eleven foods essential to a healthy vegan diet.  Things listed include: nuts (the almond industry in California uses a lot of water); soybean (first, more than 90% of the soybean crop is GMO, and second, soybeans are usually grown as a monocrop, which has been proven to be environmentally degrading); and lots of cereals and grains (which are also grown as monocrops).   The point is that while some vegans are taking this morally superior attitude about how horrible my diet is, theirs isn't more healthy or environmentally ethical, IF they eat the usual grocery-store purchased foods that everyone else purchases.

That's the caveat, though, isn't it? 

Maybe the bottom line has nothing to do with the individual components of our diets, but rather where we source those ingredients.

Researchers, like Michael Pollan, who wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma, puzzled over the question about what's the best way to eat, and that was his conclusion, as well.

If we're going to look for the best ways to eat with an eye on what's best for our bodies and what's best for the planet, we have to look at the entire package.  How was the food raised?  Where was the food raised?  How was the food processed?  How much packaging is required for that food?  How far did the food have to travel for it to get to me? 

All of those things are paramount to determining whether or not our diet is truly ethical, and if those factors are not taken into account, to take a superior stance regarding one's diet based solely on there being no animal-based products is arrogant, at best. 

After years of reading hundreds of books and articles, the definitive answer, for me, is that the only way to have a truly ethical diet is to eat food that is gathered from one's local environment by the person who will be eating it. 

I do not have a completely ethical diet, but neither have I claimed to, and neither do I fault other people for their choices. 

In the end, we can only live the best we can live, and my goal is to make conscious choices in my diet.  In my opinion, that's all anyone can ask of me.  At any rate, that's all they're going to get.


Friday, December 1, 2017

No, Honey, Eat Your Boots!

This picture is the topic of criticism today on Facebook.


The picture was posted with the comment: "Anti-Rich Democratic Socialist" protesting in a pair of $450 boots.

How dare she want to fight for greater income equality, since she is clearly not poor, and given the knowledge that she is at a Democratic Socialist rally, we can make all sorts of character assessments about her, about exactly what she means by that sign, about her obvious (based ONLY on that picture) sense of entitlement.  Clearly, she is just a lazy millenial who wants the world handed to her on a silver platter and through no effort of her own deserves to live in a big house and drive a Maserati.  


Such were the nature of the comments being made about the picture.   


There are a lot of assumptions being made about this woman and her plight.  What I said was that we can't make those assumptions, because we have no idea what her back story is.

The danger in focusing on the appearance of the woman in the above picture is that we miss the message, which, in my opinion, has to do with a lot more than just those very few words.  

Maybe there's something there that's too big and too complicated to put on a sign.  Maybe we should look deeper at that underlying issue, which isn't that she's wearing $450 shoes to a Democratic Socialist rally where she is protesting the super rich by saying, essentially, that if they won't feed the masses, the masses should eat them.  Maybe it's not about food, at all, or about poor people coveting the belongings of the rich, or desiring to have what those rich people have.  


Maybe the problem is not that we want all of the stuff that rich people have, but rather that we are being forced to maintain the same standard of living as rich people without the income to support that lifestyle.


In 2014 a widow named Robin Speronis made the news, because she was attempting to live off-grid in her urban home in Florida.   As with most things, there was probably a little more to the story than that the town just targeted this poor woman, but if we focus on what we know, the bottom line is that her house, which was completely safe and habitable, was condemned, because she had disconnected from public (and costly) utilities.  


She was collecting and filtering rainwater.  She was composting her humanure.  She had a garden in which she was growing most of her own food.  She was living this way, comfortably and safely, happy and healthy, but the Town said that she couldn't live that way.  It was illegal to *not* be connected to the city water supply and sewage lines.  When she refused to comply, her house was condemned, and she was forced to move.  


But understand that they didn't tell her how she was going to pay for these services on her fixed income, and they certainly weren't going to give her financial assistance.  She had devised a way that she could live her life without having to ask for handouts.  Unfortunately, her desire to be self-sufficient was deemed illegal.  


Her story seems radical and very specific to that one situation, and it is, but it isn't.  There are so many stories in which individuals are penalized because they can not afford (or do not desire to have) some amenity that our society has decided is required.

In many parts of this country, we are in a housing crisis.  There aren't places to live that people can afford, and so some people are trying to get creative.  This couple in Oregon built a tiny home in their parents' backyard.  A neighbor complained, which prompted the town to investigate.  The town decided that the house did not meet their codes.

The house was not an eyesore.  It wasn't in anyone's way.  It wasn't blocking the driveway or the ocean view.  The article doesn't say why the neighbor complained.

But that couple can no longer live in their parents' yard.  Where should they live?

What we are allowed to build on our land is highly regulated and subject to the whims of the people who are in control of our communities.  Houses must be a minimum square footage.  Most tiny homes don't meet the minimum, and so are illegal.  We are being forced to meet a minimum standard that ultimately costs more.

Not only do our houses have to be a minimum size, but they must also include sanitary waste disposal, water and electricity.  Get that?  In today's world, here in the US, one can not build and live in a house that is not wired for electricity.  It's in the standard building codes.  Either we connect to the grid or we purchase and install an alternative energy system, but not having electricity is not an option.

Unfortunately, it doesn't end with our houses.  The are also ordinances that govern what kind and if we can have animals on our property.  Want to raise chickens for eggs, because eggs are crazy expensive?  Better not live in a community where "farm animals" are illegal.

Those laws even extend to what plants can be grown.  This woman wasn't growing marijuana.  She was growing tomatoes.  Tomatoes.  According to the article, if she was convicted, she would have to serve 93 days.  Three months.  In Jail.  For growing tomatoes.

We can't raise our own food, because it's not legal, but in the same breath that they are denying our right to feed ourselves, they are blaming us for our diet-related health issues.  Damned if we do and damned if we don't.

In short, we are being forced to adhere to a set of standards that not all of us can afford, and then, we're being blamed for failing to meet those standards.  It's like the education model. We blame a fish for being unable to climb a tree.

We have poor people in this country, many of whom receive government aid - aid that is funded by our collective taxes.  Many of those people would be just as happy to NOT receive that government aid, but without it, they can't eat, because they can't grow their own food; they don't have a place to live, because it's illegal to live in a tent; they can't heat their homes, because the code requirements for low-cost heating options can be incredibly costly (and aren't always just about "safety" - although that's what they'll tell you).

Maybe we should stop giving both handouts and hand-ups.  Maybe we should stop pretending that one size has to fit all, and we should allow some people to live without electricity - if that's their choice.  We should allow young couples to live in tiny houses in their parents' backyards - as long as their tiny house doesn't impose on the neighbor's property (good fences make good neighbors).  Maybe we should not allow laws governing keeping animals - as long as those animals are well managed and given adequate room, shelter and food.  Maybe we shouldn't allow laws regarding what plants can be grown in our yards.

Maybe it's not the incomes that are the problem, but this idea that everyone needs to have all of the same stuff, and anything less is illegal.