Thursday, September 29, 2011

The two-cent solution

Dealing with my fat cat's health problems reminded me again of just how lucky I am to have a decent job. I was talking with the Younger Daughter last night, and she mentioned that where she lives in rural east Texas, most of her co-workers would say the solution to Cleo's diabetes would involve a walk in the woods and cost a mere two cents. Twenty-two shells are cheap.

The lead pill cure isn't one either the Y.D. or I would consider for one of our pets unless the beast was clearly suffering and euthanasia was justified, but it occurred to me that if I wasn't working for Large Nameless Agency, Cleo's options would be much more limited. What would have happened if, after looking the cat over and doing the lab work, the veterinarian handed me the bill and I couldn't pay it?  For that matter, would I have brought her to the veterinarian at all? I knew walking in the clinic door that I was about to drop at least $100 because they were going to have to do lab work of some sort. I can see where if my budget was tighter, I would have worried about her -- why is she drinking all that water? And what's with the polyuria? -- but unless she acted a lot sicker, I would have just waited and hoped that whatever was wrong would cure itself on its own.

In short, I would have treated the cat the same way I would have treated myself back in the days when the budget was a lot tighter and I didn't have health insurance. I would have waited and worried and hoped that whatever the problem was went away on its own. People who can't afford to take care of themselves sure as heck can't afford medical care for their pets -- which is another one of those hidden costs of poverty that most of us never think about. Things that the comfortable middle class (assuming such a thing still exists) take for granted, like the ability of your kids or yourself to have pets, become unaffordable luxuries when your income drops. Not only does the companion animal itself cost money (food, various supplies like collars, leashes, litterboxes, etc.), the lower your income is, the harder it becomes to find a place to live that will allow you to have one. One of the side effects of the economy tanking and foreclosures climbing was that animal shelters became overloaded with abandoned pets as people made the disheartening discovery that when they went from being homeowners to tenants, there were no rentals available that would allow them to keep the family dog.

In the larger scheme of things, when people are worried about keeping a roof over their heads or managing to feed the family for another month, I suppose thinking about poverty being a barrier to pet ownership is rather trivial. On the other hand, considering the numerous well-known benefits, both psychological and physical, of having companion animals, it is a shame that pets are just one more thing that poor people aren't supposed to have.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The obesity epidemic and its consequences

Behold Cleo, the diabetic cat. Her indoor, sedentary lifestyle has caught up with her. Insulin, twice a day. The weird thing (from my perspective) is the way she's oblivious to the needle. Just pinch the skin and shove it in -- and she doesn't even twitch an ear. Amazing.

As cats go, Cleo has never been a glutton -- she actually doesn't eat much, but she's definitely got that "thrifty" gene. When we've lived where she could be an outside cat, she was solid but not fat. As soon as she's indoors only, she porks up. So now she's on the prescription special (aka hideously expensive) cat chow for felines with diabetes, along with a strict feeding schedule and twice daily injections. The veterinarian did say it's fairly common for cats to stop needing the insulin after a few months and manage with just the special (hideously expensive) cat food. I can hope. The cat food is pricey; the insulin might as well come in solid gold vials. I'm also thinking that once she's back in Michigan and able to be out and about and chasing chipmunks again, she'll drop a few pounds, which should help get her blood sugar under control -- although I don't know how enthusiastic she's going to be about going outside once there's snow on the ground.  

As a side note, one of the odder (from my perspective) things I noticed yesterday at PetSmart was the variety of canned prescription pet foods. Did you know you can buy canned dog food that is 100% venison? Unreal.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weirdness at work

It was a fairly strange week at work. The evacuation of the building has begun, the great migration to other locations  triggered by the Director's decision to not renew the lease on space in buildings in one particular office park. There had been some quiet shuffling as various work groups started packing up their files, emptying their cubicles, and vanishing, but it was subtle. One day there'd be someone in a cubicle; the next day he'd be gone. Those of us whose moves are scheduled for later in the fall did not, however, expect to witness the cubicles themselves being disassembled and hauled out the door. It was an odd feeling trying to work while in the not-too-distant background it sounded like the building was being demolished.

It was a bit intriguing to see just how much crap people had left behind in cubicles, the stuff they didn't feel like moving or actively throwing away: zillions of 3-ring binders, for example, and lots and lots of highlighters. There were several really large bins full of miscellaneous junk that's probably going to vanish into a government warehouse and grow dust for decades, although I suppose it could show up at a GSA surplus sale as "miscellaneous office supplies."

Then, as the week progressed, I got to witness as one of my colleagues, a person who always has had a TMI problem, not only shot herself in the foot, so to speak, but managed to throw our team lead under the bus in the process. It was bizarre. The team lead made it clear this was a favor, please don't mention it to anyone, and what does the co-worker do? Over-shares, as usual, and, even worse, over-shares with the one person who should have been kept in the dark. I found out about it only because my team lead came to me needing to talk to someone because she was so upset -- the tire tracks on her back were still smoking.

I've never understood the compulsion some people have to over-share, to indulge in confessions long before the figurative cattle prod  or bamboo splinters are in the room, but this colleague does it all the time: babbles on and on until a confession has been made to violating some agency convention or OPM rule. Once the transgression is out in the open, of course, what's a manager supposed to do? If it's strictly verbal, you can kind of cringe and pretend you didn't hear it, especially if it's something relatively minor (e.g., taking a longer lunch break than the officially allotted time) and doesn't impact work overall. But when the person is dumb enough to put it into an e-mail? And then copy people higher up the food chain than just our immediate supervisors? Why not just start wearing a tee-shirt with PLEASE FIRE ME printed on it in giant letters?

As for my team lead, my advice to her was to tell the people higher up the food chain that we think a medication our co-worker is currently taking is causing a few odd cognitive side effects. It is a medication that does have confusion and memory loss as documented problems, so maybe they'll buy the notion that the woman was temporarily confused . . . if only because by pretending that's true, they can avoid having to do anything about the team lead bending the rules a tad when she probably shouldn't have.

Oh well. . . fairly soon nothing that happens in the office will be much of an issue for me. I'll have to go back to watching Jerry Springer for entertainment. I've completed most of the paperwork requesting a telework arrangement, have started packing up the apartment, and should be back in Michigan by Halloween. I know there are things I'm going to miss about Atlanta (the ready availability of Mexican Coke, the DeKalb County library system), but being in an actual office at LNA isn't one of them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Depressing stuff heard on the news

Mexico's economy is in much better shape than ours. Their unemployment rate is below 6%, and, with the exception of the sections of the country along the U.S.-Mexican border where drug cartels are killing people, the country is thriving. If it's been looking like the numbers of day laborers hanging out at Home Depot have been shrinking lately, don't credit Immigration and Customs Enforcement for doing its job -- undocumented immigrants are heading back to Oaxaca and Michoacan on their own.

Why is the Mexican economy doing so well while the rest of the world is still reeling from a recession? One reason is banking regulations. Apparently about 30 years ago Mexico went through a financial crisis that caused the government and the banking system there to re-evaluate how to do business. They actually learned something from their mistakes. End result? They didn't get sucked into the global financial meltdown that hit every place else when financial bubbles started bursting on Wall Street here in the U.S.

You know, when Mexico starts looking a lot better than the U.S., you know for sure the slide into third world nationhood is accelerating.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Working hard or hardly working?

This week is Georgia Telework Week. Georgia's governor actually did something reasonably sane (or at least innocuous) not long ago, and signed a proclamation declaring September 11 through the 17th Georgia Telework Week. Employers are supposed to encourage workers who can do so to work from home. Large Nameless Agency announced it was encouraging all division managers to have everyone who could telework do it for two days. Sounded good to me.

So here I am, at home, in my jammies and bunny slippers, so to speak, "teleworking." Or I would be if I had anything to do. In one of those typical feast or famine situations LNA is so good at creating, I have no work to do. I'm caught up. If I were sitting in the office, I'd be doing almost the same thing I'm doing here -- wandering around the Intertubes, playing an occasional game of Sudoku, and maybe writing a personal letter or two, but with the additional factor of being grateful my monitor isn't visible from the office doorway. I've always thought teleworking would be a good thing to do -- after all, I can do nothing at home and get paid for it as easily as I can do nothing in the office for 8 hours.

I do occasionally wonder how one of my colleagues manages to stay sane. He's fast, too, and is always well ahead of the production schedule. The issue we're supposedly halfway into editing right now is November, but, like me, I know this guy is already into his January assignments (all one of them, at this point; the Editor in Chief needs to pick up the pace on accepting stuff). I think he meditates a lot -- or has mastered the art of sleeping with his eyes open. There are times when I wander past his office, glance in, and he's sitting there in some sort of trance, looking like an android where someone's flipped the switch to Off. I at least keep a stash of magazines in a filing cabinet so there's always a copy of Orion or Smithsonian to fall back on. I don't think my colleague does.

I'm never really sure if the reason I manage to stay ahead of the game when it comes to work is because I'm halfway good at what I do and reasonably efficient, or if I'm really, really bad. The performance reviews we get at work are completely meaningless, so who knows? The criteria for "fully successful" are all purely subjective; there are no metrics. I do know I tend to edit light -- I don't change an author's words just because I would have said something differently; as long as a sentence is understandable and grammatically correct, I'm probably going to leave it alone -- but I also know that I see stuff, major howlers, that my colleagues missed in galleys . . . and they all supposedly agonize over an article for many days before deciding it's ready for production. I never agonize. I figure if the authors are happy with what they see in the edited proofs, it's good to go -- it's going to be their names on the title page, not mine, and I have no desire to step on their voice.

At least with the journal, the gaps with no work whatsoever are fairly short. We're a monthly, stuff comes in all the time, the lulls are relatively infrequent. That wasn't true of my first two years at LNA. I was assigned to a workgroup in the writer-editor services branch (which no longer exists, but that's another story) to work as an "author's editor." LNA has a policy that every article for external publication, every research piece the scientists submit to journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, Clinical Infectious Diseases, etc., has to be checked by an actual editor before it can be cleared for submission. They want to be sure that not only is the science accurate, but that LNA's researchers aren't going to embarrass themselves with bad writing. It was not a bad gig, I got to read some interesting material, but the work flow was totally dependent on when/if LNA researchers submitted something for clearance and requested editorial services. I'd get one thing at a time, for example, a 2500 word article on tuberculosis and drug resistance, and be told I had three weeks in which to edit it. Three weeks! To check a ten page paper. It was a project that in most cases could be done in a few hours -- a full day at best. I never did milk those projects for the full time allotted, but I also never turned them in as soon as I finished them. I've had tadpoles before, and I know how production quotas work. Besides, you never know when you're going to get handed something that's sufficiently nasty that it really does take ten times longer to finish than you thought it would. 

In any case, I'd finish a project, let my team lead know I was ready for something else. . . and then I'd sit. . . and sit. . . and sit. . . day after day waiting for something else to land in the In Box. There is a reason I became the Sudoku Queen of Corporate Square. When the journal advertised for a copy editor, all the experienced editors in my work group, including my team lead, told me not to apply. "They work really, really hard over there." "The deadline pressure is horrible." "They're just overwhelmed all the time; they can't keep up." It sounded pretty damn good compared to being paid to sit and stare at cubicle walls 8 hours a day.

The work load is a little heavier, but it's also totally predictable -- the journal is a monthly, so we all know that every month each copy editor will have a minimum of 7 articles to edit, more likely 8 or 9, and that we all have one or two other responsibilities. As publications go, we don't have a particularly brutal production schedule, nor are we understaffed, at least not on the copyediting side. It's pretty easy to keep up with the pace of production once you're oriented to the schedule. The only mystery is how good or bad the articles will be, i.e., how much clean-up will they need. Some research shops run like well-oiled machines -- their principal investigator has overseen enough submissions to our journal that the papers come in formatted exactly the way our style dictates; they're close to publishable without us doing a thing other than running it through our software for formatting. Others are a mess. I've seen a few where the initial impression is "This is written in Klingon." Most fall somewhere in between. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not exactly an urban homesteader

It's almost harvest time on the patio, and about all I can say about this year's results is it's a good thing we don't have to rely on our container gardening for survival. I managed to kill most of the plants by going on vacation for a little too long ("mummified" would be an apt description for what greeted me when I returned from Michigan in June), and the sole pepper plant to survive has managed to produce a grand total of six, count'em, six peppers to date. It bloomed a lot, but all the polinators were apparently far too busy up in the mimosa to bother with a mere pepper plant at ground level.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Summer is officially over

. . . at least up on the tundra. The 2011-2012 snowplowing bill for the driveway at the Retirement Bunker arrived today.
The photo is an old one. Here's a view in the summer of more or less that same stretch of driveway 30+ years later. Rewilding in action.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hot Springs National Park

Spending the Labor Day weekend at Hot Springs National Park was a mini-vacation I approached with a fair amount of trepidation as the time grew closer. Hot Springs was one of my favorite parks back when I worked for NPS, and I was a little worried that maybe talking it up to the Younger Daughter was a mistake. We had agreed to meet there for the weekend, and I'd sent her some links for typical Hot Springs activities (e.g., the thermal baths). I also booked us into one of the historic hotels downtown, the Arlington, and it began to worry me that maybe she wouldn't be as charmed by its aura of faded grandeur as I was.
I worried for nothing. We had a great time. Our room in the Arlington was lovely; we were on the 7th floor so the outdoor mountainside pool was just a short walk away. We were also right across the street from Arlington Lawn, part of the national park. We were ambling distance from both Bathhouse Row and all the commercial stuff that might interest us (e.g., restaurants) The national park was even nicer than I remembered--park management does a superb job on maintenance--and the ambience overall was Hot Springs at its liveliest. I think the city would have been bustling anyway because of Labor Day weekend, but the Blues Festival happening that weekend probably added to the crowds and fun. One of the great things about Hot Springs is you can go from enjoying the outdoors--the National Park includes several thousand acres of woodland with miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty--to enjoying the nightlife without much of a break in between. Personally, I'm not much of a clubber, but I can certainly see the attraction for people who do enjoy partying.
Hot Springs is, of course, famous for its hot springs, and there are several venues where it is possible to enjoy a traditional thermal bath. One of the historic bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, the Buckstaff, has been providing traditional thermal baths for many years. The traditional experience included a hot soak followed by massage, but could turn into a long, elaborate ritual with steam cabinets, cold cabinets, hot packs, cold packs, and multiple soaks in the thermal mineral water. It's been considerably abbreviated in recent decades. I always kind of wonder about the Buckstaff because it's strictly walk-in--no advance reservations--but I'm told that it truly provides the traditional Hot Springs experience (and that in turn evokes images of burly peasant women beating the crap out of the massage victim while reassuring him or her that being kneaded like a loaf of pumpernickel will cure whatever ails them; maybe on a return trip I'll have the courage to find out).

Another of the bathhouses, the Quapaw (the domed building in the photo above) was renovated fairly recently and offers both a thermal waters experience and a more typical modern spa experience (i.e., your choice of massages, like hot stone or Swedish, and the ever-popular "couples massage."). For a mere $18, a person can soak in a large communal pool, basically an oversized (and gorgeously tiled) hot tub filled with the mineral water from the springs, or they can spend more money and have a more private experience at the Quapaw. In addition to the bathhouses right on Bathhouse Row, several hotels have thermal baths that allow a person to indulge in the traditional soak in remarkably hot mineral water, as well as offering massages and other spa services.
I was really happy to see the Quapaw operating. Another of the bathhouses, the Ozark, has been renovated for adaptive re-use as an art museum, and a third that had been totally vacant the last time I was in Hot Springs now has a cafe and small specialized bookstore. The bathhouses are nifty structures, with each one done in a different style than the others, and a few have some really over-the-top architectural details, so I hope the park superintendent can manage to find some other suitable tenants to help with the maintenance costs for these gorgeous money pits. 

In short, a great park, a fun place to visit, and definitely worth multiple return visits.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Travel tip of the day

If you decide to do a weekend getaway to a hotel that's high and dry and well removed from nasty weather, and you see on the Weather Channel that a slow-moving tropical storm has plans to meander through the area between that high and dry hotel and the city where you live, it might be a good idea to spring for an extra night instead of convincing yourself it's real important to get home on schedule . . . just to give aforementioned tropical storm another day or two to move on down the road.

Driving through Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday while the city was getting slammed by tropical storm Lee is not one of the smarter things I have done.

[Photo from a news report from Birmingham from right about the time I was being dumb enough to try to turn my car into an amphibious vehicle yesterday.]