Yearly Archives: 2021

•  On October 9, 2o21, only days after I covered the topic in this blog, The Washington Post reported that the city of Albuquerque has established “a new category of first responder” wherein “911 dispatchers [have] an option beyond police, with social workers and others in related fields patrolling the city and fielding calls pertaining to mental health, substance abuse or homelessness that otherwise would have been handled by an armed officer.”  Let’s hope that this model is successful and becomes the national standard — but with its own 988 number if possible.

•  There’s always that scene in crime movies where the leader of the criminal enterprise is forced to remind the official “weak guy” in the gang, wavering in his dedication, of why the weak guy needs to get himself together and do his assigned job.  But we all know that the weak guy’s ineptness and/or his empathy for the protagonist is what lets the protagonist find and leverage a small advantage and ultimately prevail.  So here’s to you, Weak Guys. Just be ready when your leader’s plans implode, because afterward, the tide rarely turns in your favor.

•  I think I have discovered a side-effect of the COVID-19 vaccine.  While those who get the COVID-19 virus often lose their sense of smell, people who get the COVID-19 vaccine seem to lose their sense of humor.  Take me, for example.  I got vaccinated in February/March (and got my booster shot last week).  Ever since getting my vaccines, I’ve had a really hard time finding anything funny about those who don’t.

•  Actually, I wasn’t really joking here.  Because I have in fact noticed that I am not really  joking much, anytime, anywhere, and haven’t been for some time.  “Take my melancholy… please!”  I promise to work on my routine and come up with some fresh material real soon.

•  Walked into the barber shop this morning.  “Need a haircut?” Tony asked — the barber’s name was Tony.  I say to Tony, “I don’t need a haircut, I need hair!”  So Tony goes over to his drawer and pulls out a rabbit.  He brings it over and says, “Hare you go!”  I take a good long look at the rabbit.  Then I turn its head to Tony and say, “That’s the best you could do on the whiskers?”

•  As I said, I’m working on my routine.

•  My spouse gets credit for this thought.  Those who don’t wear masks or get vaccinated and just go about business as usual, and then have the nerve to say to you, “I don’t live in my fears,” are not really referring to themselves but to you.  They want you to know that you are a coward and they are king-of-the-hill, the childhood bully they once envied and now emulate.  As always, it’s best to avoid bullies — no matter how old and stupid they are.

•  I listened for hours on July 27, 2021, to the powerful and emotional testimony of four of the police officers who, on January 6 of this year (yes, it was this year), helped defend the U.S. Capitol and its occupants from a mob of American anarchists.  But already, the events of that day are being swept under a rug of indifference by the burn-the-place-down faction of our “fellow” citizens.  It is apparent that January 6 is destined to be considered quaint, vis-à-vis the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, just another case of the fringe rousing the rabble. 

•  We will never change the minds of libertarians (and other just-plain-selfish people) who interpret the U.S. Constitution (or the words they think it says) as affirming their faith that they deserve the benefit of living here and exploiting its advantages while remaining free of almost all its obligations.

•  Why is there such a thing as locker-room culture?  More specifically, who decided it is OK for men to say and do things in locker rooms that are frowned upon everywhere else?  (Answer: Men.  Next question.)

•  You may not know it from the topics I write about, but I am weary of how social justice issues have come to dominate — if not monopolize — news reporting, left, right and center. Imagine if Woody Guthrie showed up at your house with his guitar, and at first you were pleased to have such a talent share his gifts with you, but then he played anti-fascist songs for hours on end, and you got so weighed down by it, you finally turned to him and asked, “Do you know She’ll Be Comin ‘Round the Mountain?”  That’s what it’s feeling like.

•  However, if I was stranded on a desert island, and I had to choose between social justice stories and this version of She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain, I would pick the former and hope for a quick rescue.

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7 Reasons Why Your PC is Slow (and How to Fix It)

We know… it’s pretty frustrating when you sit down to play the Baby Shark video but your PC starts acting like a minnow.  While it’s OK (and normal, according to most users) for your Windows PC to run a little slow, it’s usually not a good sign when the spinning dots on your screen chase their tails for more than an hour or two.

So before you run out and buy a Mac, we decided to share the top 7 reasons that your PC could be running slower than it usually does, and what you can do about it!

7. Molasses

You think your PC is running “slow as molasses?”  Well, you are probably right!  In spite of your best efforts to keep the molasses far away from your PC, as the experts recommend, we all know accidents happen.  Using your PC in your kitchen is just asking for trouble!

Molasses can really gum up all the levers and timing gears in a modern PC.  If you see any evidence of molasses in your PC (sticky keys, sweet smell), here’s what you can do.  First, remove as much molasses as you can by tilting your PC so that the liquid drains out near the CTRL key.  (Be careful, as some may also seep out from the spacebar area.)  When the molasses stops flowing, unplug your PC (very important!) and then use your kitchen faucet to rinse out the keyboard until you see clear water running out of the PC.  Note: Only use warm water — hot water may dissolve the paint on the keys and make it hard for you to know what you are typing.

6. Phase of the Moon

People use the old “phase of the moon” excuse for everything from nighttime visibility to ocean tides, which of course is just ridiculous.  But rest assured, the phase of the moon plays a big part in how your PC runs.  If you don’t believe this, read a few of the internet “ask-the-expert” forums.  The PC user always starts out saying, “Last week my machine was running great, but today it is really slow — and I didn’t change a thing!”

There can be no other explanation for such behavior other than the phase of the moon.  This is simply a feature of our solar system and, unless your last name is Bezos or Musk, you don’t get to choose your own universe.  So wait a week and see if your PC perks up.  If it doesn’t, wait another week.

5. Ran Out of Internet

We tend to forget that The Internet is not a renewable resource.  Every hour you spend on The Internet costs the Earth 12,000 trees, according to a recent study by Yew Research. But sometimes, the trucks that deliver those trees don’t arrive on time — and when they are late, your internet connection may experience a slowdown or come to a grinding halt. When that tree pipeline goes dry, so does your Baby Shark video stream.

This is a serious problem facing our digital world.  But if we all work together, we can keep The Internet from running out for many years to come.  Here are just a few things we can do to preserve The Internet for future generations:

• Plant 12,000 trees per hour, per person, for the rest of our lives.
• Approve overtime pay for tree-delivery truck drivers.
• Don’t stream videos when you are sleeping and/or driving a truck.
• Stream videos in black-and-white only (color videos use up more trees).

Note: If you frequently run out of internet, but your neighbors have no connection issues, then you may have an internet leak.  If so, you will need a computer programmer or other IT professional to check the cables around your house for wasteful internet leaks.

4. Bed Bugs!

So, you decided to save a little money and — against your spouse’s advice — stayed in a cheap hotel.  But when you got home, you noticed your PC was running slower than ever.  Sadly, that is exactly what happens when bed bugs find a home in your PC.  The warmth of the power supply and the soft relaxing hum of the central processing unit (CPU) are like Trump Tower to bed bugs.

Bed bugs slow down your PC by persistently biting the prongs that connect the chips to the motherboard, until the prongs become inflamed and can no longer send digital signals, the invisible ones and zeroes that are the blood of your PC.  There is only one sure way to eliminate a PC bed bug infestation (see Quick-Start Guide below):

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees; open the lid of your PC and place it on the top rack, then close the oven door and bake for 45 minutes.  After the PC cools off, turn your unit upside down and shake out the bed bug ashes until larger pieces start falling out.

And next time, try spending a few more bucks on your room!

3. You Have a Virus

No, we don’t mean your computer has a virus, we’re talking about you.  When you have a virus and you’re not feeling great, time seems to slow to a crawl.  You may think your PC is lagging, but it’s just your brain telling you to stop searching WebMD and get some rest.

That said, there is another very good reason to stay off the computer when you are sick.  And that is because you could give your PC the virus that you have. Human-to-computer transmission of viruses and other pathogens is not just another conspiracy theory, it is a conspiracy fact.  Once your PC becomes infected with your virus, it will really slow down, and the only way to help it recover at that point is Bitcoin Soup.  Ouch, says your wallet!

So do yourself, and your PC, a favor: wear a mask when you surf the web and wash your hands every 100 keystrokes.*

2. Fragmented Hard Drive

We are going to have to get a little more technical in this section, since most PC owners never crack open their hard drives and look inside to see how they really work.  If they did, they would be amazed that a device like this could even store a chili recipe, let alone the entire text of “The Da Vinci Code” (or for adult readers, “The Thorn Birds”).

In any case, if you pried open your hard drive right now, it would look something like the illustration above.  You would see a razor-sharp cutting arm poised over the surface of a shiny metallic disc etched with an intricate pattern.  The pattern reflects all the websites you’ve visited and all the emails you’ve written and read, each one of them carved into that silvery platter by the precision cutting arm of your hard drive.

Unfortunately, when you visit the same websites over and over, or read the same e-mails again and again, that arm cuts deeper and deeper into the same places on the hard drive. When the cuts are shallow, this merely slows things down.  But if the cuts go deep, like a broken heart, then your hard drive will crumble into 1000 pieces, also like a broken heart. And that chili recipe, like yesterday’s love, will just be… a distant memory.

That is why the geniuses at Microsoft invented a “disk defragmenter” utility back in 1982.  When you run the defragmenter, a powerful laser beam on the cutting arm heat-welds all those byte-size pieces of the disc together, so you and your sweetie can make all of your favorite recipes again.  As the Bee Gees said, that’s how you mend a broken hard drive!

1. Your Battery is Dying

When you’ve tried everything else and your PC is still slow, you may just have to face the fact that your PC battery is dying.  Some people don’t understand that a car battery lasts 36 months but a PC battery only lasts 5-6 hours.  And then you have to either replace the battery or — for IBM models — just toss the PC in the landfill, battery and all.  This can get as expensive as upgrading an iPhone once a year.

Needless to say, it would be great if PC owners didn’t have to install a new battery every day or two.  But there is something you can do to extend your PC’s running time between battery changes, and it involves an adapter that some PC makers supply with your PC.  You may not have used the adapter before, so here is what you need to do:

A.  Get a meat fork like the one shown in the figure.  If you are a vegetarian, then use a vegetable fork that is exactly the same size and shape as a meat fork.

B. Get a D-size (flashlight) battery.  With a firm stabbing motion, stab the top the battery with your meat (or vegetable) fork.  If you are using a vegetable fork, you may have to stab it twice.

C. Lastly, find the adapter for your PC and connect it to your machine.  Now, standing a ways back from the battery, push the plug of the adapter into the holes you punched into the top of the battery.  Wiggle the plug a bit to ensure good contact.  If you see smoke, wait for it to dissipate (your web-surfing mask may come in handy here), then give your PC an hour or so to soak up the power from the battery.  Stand by in case there are any sparks or flames.

If (and when) these attempts to fix your slow PC fall short, you have one last thing to try: call your daughter — or son, niece or nephew, whoever is the “official” computer expert in your family.  Believe me, she will be proud of you for trying to solve the problem before you bothered her.  And if your PC is still running after everything you tried here, I’m sure she will be happy to tell you what to do next.

______________

* Note: The CDC has not made a recommendation on the number of keystrokes between hand-washings.
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A few weeks ago, my spouse’s attention was drawn to a young man on the street corner below our nearby grocery — he was highly agitated, had fly-about hair and was speaking loudly to himself.  As my spouse parked her car, the man walked toward the store, then situated himself a few paces from the entrance and continued to gesture.  My spouse went in the store to shop; when she returned to her car, she saw the man enter the store.

Would these events and observations have caused you concern?

I venture that, for most people (including me), the answer would be based on prejudices or personal experiences rather than any purposeful training.  This is because our society has yet to adopt — let alone agree on — objective, constructive responses to those who exhibit odd or unstable behavior in public, especially when those people are strangers.

The U.S. Forest Service has a cartoon bear with a ranger hat to remind us about wildfires and how to prevent them.  But the Department of Health and Human Services has yet to deploy its own mental-health mascot, Serenity The Swan.  (We can only suppose that she is waiting in the wings.)  Given our nation’s conflicted mental-health objectives, Serenity would have little coherent to say to us in any case.  Meanwhile, we — the troubled souls and those concerned about them — have largely been left to figure things out on our own.

My spouse described her encounter to me when she got home from the grocery store, and we discussed the situation a while.  I asked, had she thought about calling 911, and she replied no.  She said, it didn’t seem like an emergency and “people can be a little crazy.”

• • • • 

The next day, our neighborhood’s Nextdoor site lit up with comments to a posting about a “mentally disturbed man with a dark and menacing energy” walking around a nearby park and “looking for his axe and ranting about Lucifer and strange stuff.”  Being that none of my Nextdoor neighbors have ever heard a mental-health message from Serenity The Swan, they were free to fill the void with their own public service pronouncements:

  • This encounter is a prime example why no one should be out and about without some sort of weapon close at hand. Mace, pepper spray, a walking stick, or something more lethal, whatever you’re comfortable with.
  • I saw him in the parking lot of Fresh Market yesterday. He appeared to be having an animated conversation with someone who was not there. There is a lot of mental illness out there these days.
  • A perfect example of what defund police should be about.  A social worker and police were needed there.
  • He is a registered sex offender known to police and first responders in the neighborhood.  He has had mental illness since his teens but those who know him believe he’s currently unmedicated.  We believe he’s homeless.  He rides a child’s bike and carries an axe.
  • He rides a child’s bike and carries an axe? For real.  And he is allowed to do that.  That is just crazier than he is.

I could not help myself and made a comment:

  • A 9-1-1 call would have been appropriate, if you didn’t already.

Because 911 is all I know.  This prompted a couple of replies which I could not discount:

  • Or a nonemergency call to law enforcement if you’re concerned but not dealing with a life or death emergency.
  • Just a heads up, the police will not respond unless violence [is] occurring. The police do not have enough manpower now.  We have sketchy people all over the place.

Let’s be clear — until now, I hadn’t given much thought to how I should report weirdness that falls short of being an emergency.  (As if I am a reliable judge of that.)  I do not have the non-emergency numbers of our local police departments in my cellphone.  I have no evidence whether calling 911 in such situations is a positive, a negative, or a waste of time.   I had never researched whether there is a mental-health-related alternative to 911 where we live and, if so, who would respond.  I know that if we do have such an alternative here, its existence has been well-concealed.

• • • • 

I hardly need to point out how the ubiquity of firearms in the U.S. has poisoned the way we deal with overtly disturbed people.  The gun-fetish interpretation (Scalia, June 2008) of the Second Amendment severed all ties between the words well regulated and arms, which has allowed very troubled people to inflict constitutionally-condoned mass harm.(1)  After causing such harm, they are at liberty (!) to dispatch themselves with their own guns or relegate the dispatching to the police.

Not that the police want that job.  No police officer (except maybe Polk County, Florida, Sheriff Grady Judge) wants any part of suicide-by-cop duty.  Tragic as these events are, there seem to be plenty of them thanks to firearms.  The flood of guns on the streets only adds to the fear and uncertainty of police officers as to the lethality of the objects they encounter in the course of doing their jobs.

The prevalence, hence future probability, of random gun violence has trained ever-fearful Americans, police and civilians alike, to treat “unstable” people as threats to be avoided, or to subdue and arrest, rather than as sufferers to be helped — assuming the community has the resources to help them.

Our fear is only made worse by how people with mental-health problems are presented on the news.  A 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University found that “when the news media portrayed a specific individual with mental illness, that individual was most frequently depicted as having committed an act of interpersonal violence.”  The study also concluded that “the news media’s … emphasis on interpersonal violence is highly disproportionate to actual rates of violence among those with mental illnesses.  [This] may exacerbate social stigma and decrease support for public policies that benefit people with mental illnesses.”

Clearly, we have learned to associate the mental-health issues of others with the prospect of danger to ourselves.  So what shall it be?  Do we want our social/governmental response to take care of the matter or take care of the person?

• • • • 

Which leads us to the 911 call and the response it may elicit.  Our county website has this to say about “right and wrong” uses of the 911 system:  A call to 911 should always be a call for help!  Use 911 for life-threatening incidents.  This includes:

  • If someone is hurt.
  • If you see someone taking something that belongs to someone else.
  • If you see someone hurting someone else.
  • If you smell smoke or see fire.

Neglecting for now the fact that “someone taking something that belongs to someone else” is usually not life-threatening, these 911 guidelines seem to exclude unstable behavior that falls short of being a crisis.  Sort of what the Nextdoor commenter said to me.

But doesn’t a person who may endanger themselves or others justify a call to 911?  Maybe not!  The new concern, based on highly-publicized interactions(2) between the police and the mentally-precarious, is that calling 911 may not be “helpful” in such situations, and for good cause:  Research Triangle Institute found that, of 159 officer-involved fatal shootings in North Carolina from 2015 to 202o, “about one-fifth involved someone who displayed signs of mental illness.”  National data follows the same trend.

The advocacy and research group Mental Health America echoes such concerns in its 2017 policy statement:

Unfortunately, we do not have appropriate systems in place to respond to mental health and substance use crises.  Among the wide-spread problems are: the lack of alternatives to calling 911; the lack of training for 911 personnel; the lack of alternatives to dispatching law enforcement personnel in response to mental health and substance use crises…

As a result, persons experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis may end up in confrontations with law enforcement personnel which have tragic outcomes, [or may] be transported to a jail and subjected to ongoing involvement in the criminal justice system when these outcomes are unnecessary, are harmful to the person, and do not lead to increased public safety.

If only there were a mobile mental-health crisis response unit that we could call, instead of involving law enforcement…  But wait!  Someone has thought of this already!  I think.

• • • •

North Carolina has a statewide information and referral service called “NC 211” which is operated by United Way of North Carolina.  Callers are referred to the local organizations “best equipped to address their specific health and human services needs including food, shelter, energy assistance, housing, parenting resources, healthcare, substance abuse, as well as specific resources for older adults, persons with disabilities, and much more.”

The only reason I know about 211 is that I was once a volunteer tax-preparer for a local non-profit financial counseling center.  We would let our clients know about 211 when we did their taxes.  But 211 otherwise gets little airtime around here — in fact I’d be surprised if 2.11 percent of the locals know 211 exists.

Nonetheless, I knew about it — so I visited the NC 211 website to see whether 211 might be the better number to call to report disturbing behavior.  That is how I stumbled upon RHA Health Services, which calls itself a “leading provider of high-quality supports and services for people with a variety of behavioral health needs in North Carolina.”  I then read that RHA has a “mobile crisis” team offering “on-site response, stabilization and intervention for people of all ages who are experiencing a crisis due to mental health disturbances, developmental disabilities, or addiction.”  That sounds… helpful.

I decided to call the local RHA office to ask: would it be appropriate to call RHA, rather than 211 or 911, the next time I am concerned about the erratic behavior of a stranger?  Here is a summary of my converstaion with the friendly RHA rep who answered my call:

•  The first question the representative asked me was, who suggested I should not call 911?  I replied, social media.  She paused, but she did not take pains to correct me.

•  She then said that, generally, individuals do not contact RHA directly unless the person who needs help is a family member or someone they are responsible for.  This is because the services that RHA delivers are by consent, i.e., someone needs to authorize them.

•  As to the specific case I mentioned, the agitated stranger in apparent need of help, the RHA rep suggested that the non-emergency police number would be the best one to call.  She assured me that the city and county have trained crisis intervention personnel, and that law enforcement reaches out to RHA as appropriate.  (I must take her word on this.)  But even so, she added, some people decline the mental health services offered to them.

• • • •

NC Policy Watch, a North Carolina public policy think tank, recently questioned whether police officers, even with special training, are the appropriate first responders to mental health situations:

Although North Carolina law enforcement agencies have been using Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, for more than 15 years to learn to respond to people in mental health crises, there’s now a growing belief that it’s unwise for police to respond to every emergency call, especially those involving mental health issues or homelessness. Cities in North Carolina are looking at practices in use around the country where non-police alternatives resulted in fewer arrests.

As such, members of the North Carolina House introduced a bill in May that would fund pilot programs in Charlotte, Greenville and Greensboro, to provide “alternative responses to citizens in crisis” and better facilitate “the response of behavioral and medical health personnel to nonviolent situations deemed appropriate by the city police department.” While it is good to see movement on this front, House Bill 802 is just one of 177 bills (!) awaiting action by the Appropriations Committee.  Who knows what its fate will be?

While we wait, may I suggest that, unless your county has put a better system in place, we should all look up the non-emergency phone numbers of our local police departments and store those numbers in our cell phones.  You know, just in case.

That said, it would be even better if we had a three-digit number for mental-health calls, the analogue of 911 for law enforcement and emergency calls.  What’s that, Serenity?  You say there is one?  Yes, sort of.  Last October, the U.S. Congress passed (and the president signed) The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020.  This bill established 988 as the national suicide prevention lifeline, effective July 2022.  It is unclear to me whether 988 will be reserved for strictly life-threatening situations or, as I hope, will also serve as a de-escalated alternative to 911 for mental-health distress calls.

We will have to see how this develops in each of the little states we live in.

___________

(1)  A 2018 study by Silver, Fisher and Horgan of over 100 U.S. mass shootings from 1990 to 2014 found that “half of the offenders had a history of mental illness or mental health treatment but less than 5 percent had gun‐disqualifying mental health records.”
(2)  Just a handful of examples: Terrence Coleman, Boston, MA, 2016.  Ricardo Hayes, Chicago, IL, 2017.  Saheed Vassell, Brooklyn, NY, 2018.  Miles Hall, Walnut Creek, CA, 2019.  Daniel Prude, Rochester, NY, 2020.  Chris Craven, Mooresville, NC, 2021…
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