February 04, 2010

It Can Happen To You!

A couple of years ago I started putting our financial house in order. I subscribed to a two personal finance blogs (The Simple Dollar, and Man vs. Debt). I read their archives and went to work.

Thank God I did. It forced me to look closely at our expenditures and I was able to cut out a whole lot of wasted money. Now I'm funding our emergency fund as quickly as possible. I'm aiming for 6 months of living expenses in there. Unless something really bad happens, we're going to weather this recession.

My friend Margaret (not her real name) and her husband haven't been so conscientious and now they're in trouble. M. had a well-paying job until she was injured on the job in December of 2008. She hasn't been to work since, and there's serious doubt that she will be able to return to her old profession.

Shortly after they married, her husband quit his full-time job to start his own business. He struggled along and they paid their bills with a good bit left over for a few luxuries. He plays in a band and they were able to spend a good bit of money on drinks with friends and family at his gigs. She also had the money to spend on personal grooming (hair, nails).

But all that changed a few months ago when her worker's compensation claim was closed. To compound matters, during the last year or so her husband's business began to fail and has now all but died.

What's incredible to me is that they didn't make any substantial lifestyle changes when she became unable to work.

They now have no income other than the little bit he earns playing in the band a couple of times a week. They're behind on the mortgage. She just got food stamps yesterday but won't know if they'll get cash assistance or not until her 401(k) is evaluated by the state.

How did this happen? These people had much higher incomes than my husband and I. She has a financial advisor, even. Although she hasn't told me so, from what she has said about her finances I believe they had very little savings other than that 401(k). I can't help but wonder what advice her financial person gave her. Was she advised to save for a rainy day, and didn't? Or have they burned through the savings?

What frightens me is that this could happen to anyone who doesn't have a good emergency fund. I know, because it happened to us - twice. We almost lost our house once because my husband was injured and off work for 3 months. Three months. That's all it took for our financial house to come crashing down.

Ladies and gentlemen, Grandma was right. "Save it for a rainy day" isn't just a quaint homily - it's crucial to survival in today's world. Would you be able to survive if you and/or your significant other lost your jobs or were injured and unable to work?

February 03, 2010

Is it Hypocrisy? Socialism and Social Security Disability

President Obama's attempts to turn America into a socialist country are terrifying. The climate is right for such a change - it feeds into our society's sense of entitlement. I've read over and over lately how the vast majority of our youth (and a good bit of Generation Y) believe that our society owes them: owes them a job, an education, material possessions, owes them whatever they need or want. Most of them don't believe they should have to put forth much if any effort for what they get (hence the word "entitlement").

So much has been written about this lately that I don't really need to get into it here. And I don't want to, either. It infuriates me.

Moving on.

In 2008 one in five citizens had some form of disability, including me. I'm arguably one of the luckier ones. My disability is a mental illness which gives me some hope of eventually getting better, unlike those who have permanent physical disabilities. For the purposes of this article I'm defining the disabled as those of us who draw Social Security Disability income.

Is Social Security Disability a socialist program? Of course it is - it's called "Social" Security. And I'm vehemently against socialism. So, because my main source of income is from Disability, does that make me a hypocrite?

I think that it does. And although I didn't ask to get sick, and I'm doing my best to find a job that I can keep, and I'm an entrepreneur as well, I still rely on that Disability money to pay the bills. I can't see any other way to keep food in our mouths and a roof over our heads.

What do you think? Am I a hypocrite? Or is it OK for me to tell myself that the socialist programs already in place are OK - but no new ones are allowed? Where is the line between helping those who truly can't help themselves and providing for those who could?

February 01, 2010

No Role for Mental Health Professionals in the Practice of Torture

One of the ways I keep up with what's going on in the world is through email feeds from selected websites. One of them is from Science Daily, a wonderful site that publishes nuggets about the latest scientific research.

The title of this blog is from an article at Science Daily. Don't believe me? Click on the title and go read the short.

The research seems to be supported by this quote from an article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled "Doctors and Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay", published July 7, 2005:

"Clinical expertise has a limited place in the planning and oversight of lawful interrogation. Psychologists play such a role in criminal investigations, and medical monitoring of detainees is called for by international legal instruments. But proximity of health professionals to interrogation settings, even when they act as caregivers, carries risk. It may invite interrogators to be more aggressive, because they imagine that these professionals will set needed limits."

The latest research according to Science Daily implies that the psychologists/psychiatrists aren't capable of setting limits because they don't have the necessary expertise.

And while all of this is very interesting (at least to psychologists and psychiatrists and torturers), and in an intellectual way I myself find it a fascinating discussion, what I want to know is this:

Why are we even TALKING about torture in the first place?

When the shit hit the fan about "interrogation techniques" at Guantanamo Bay I thought this whole torture business was over with. Apparently not. Apparently it's still acceptable for the US government to torture information out of suspected terrorists. Else why would research be going on into who's fit to participate?

Americans are members of a nation that practices the torture of other human beings. That means we all sanction it, because we're not doing anything to stop the government from doing it (even if the government would admit that it's still going on). And what about the people who are actually doing the torturing? Americans are sanctioning government employment of sociopaths and sadists, and we're paying them for their "skills" with our own money. Yours and mine.

Like many Americans, I don't give a lot of thought to homeland terrorism. I don't let fear rule my life, or even enter into it that much. When I do think about it it's usually in terms of "Oh, well, the government is watching out for that sort of thing." And when I think about what "watching out for" means, I certainly don't think it includes torture. Not after Guantanamo Bay anyway.

It seems I'm wrong. And it makes me sick to my stomach.

Do you have any thoughts about the practice of torture to secure information from suspected terrorists? Is it acceptable? What are the costs and are you willing to pay them?

January 31, 2010

Two for One: Spanish Style Shrimp with Garlic, Jeff's Shrimp and Rice

It was Girls' Night In. Mexican food was chosen and I wanted to fix something unique. So I looked in my recipe collection and found a tapas recipe I liked.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, tapas are little plates of yummies served in Spain along with your cocktail or beer. They allow you to try local specialties without spending a lot of money.

Anyway, the recipe I found was reasonably quick and easy: Spanish Style Shrimp with Garlic. It sounded yummy, so I sent hubby to the store to pick up some shrimp while I showered and made myself pretty.

Hubby called me from Wally World to make sure he got the size of shrimp that I wanted. What we both neglected to determine was whether I wanted raw or cooked shrimp.

He got cooked. The ones they boil in plain old water with no seasoning. Yuck. (He was very apologetic since I had a hysterical fit when he got home with it.)

Since there wasn't any way to modify the tapas recipe for cooked shrimp, I gave up and just contributed some cash to the food because this all happened about 3 hours before we all got together.

Leaving me with a pound of (yucky) cooked, thawed shrimp.

The next day that shrimp needed to be used. I refused to touch it, mostly because I didn't feel particularly clever that day and was unable to come up with any ideas for dinner. Which might've had something to do with the hangover I had from the bourbon I drank at Girl's Night In...

So Hubby came up with Jeff's Shrimp and Rice. Like any good cook he made it with a little of this and a little of that, so in the recipe below you'll need to use your own judgment about how much of each seasoning to use.

The recipes follow. If you try Jeff's Shrimp, why don't you come back and comment on how much of each seasoning you used?

Spanish Style Shrimp with Garlic
Yield 4 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup shrimp and 1 lemon wedge)


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 lemon wedges


Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pepper, garlic, and bay leaf; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Increase heat to medium-high. Add shrimp; sauté until shrimp have pink or orange markings and white, opaque flesh (about 4 minutes). Remove from heat. Sprinkle with salt. Discard bay leaf. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve with lemon wedges.

Nutritional Information
Calories: 161 (31% from fat)
Fat: 5.5g (sat 0.9g,mono 3g,poly 1.1g)

Jeff's Shrimp and Rice

Canola oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh sweet onion (such as Mayan or Vidalia)
Black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Parsley flakes
Garlic powder
Cumin powder
Dried oregano
3 cups cooked white rice
Olive oil
1# cooked large shrimp

Heat 3 tablespoons canola oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add seasonings, crumbling dried herbs with your fingers to release the flavor. Saute the seasonings for a minute or two. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in the cooked rice and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or until rice is hot. Add just enough olive oil, stirring constantly, to give the mixture a slight sheen. Heat through; add cooked shrimp and cook for another 5 minutes stirring frequently until shrimp is hot. Serve.

As usual, I'm unable to properly attribute the tapas recipe. I collect them from all over the web and don't usually log where I found them.