Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars REALLY Go?

Do you ever wish there was some place where you could get clear, easy to understand information about how our federal tax dollars are spent? Wouldn't you like to get past the opinions of politicians, pundits and partisans, so you can look at the facts and draw your own conclusions?

Well, now you can. Get a copy of Jess Bachman's 24"x36" poster, "Death & Taxes," and get the straight story about where all that money is going to go in 2012.

Just as a good picture is worth a thousand words, this visual representation saves you the trouble of reviewing thousands of pages of information. Bachman spends two months each year doing the research necessary to produce each year's budget poster. There's a heck of a lot of data here, so get your reading glasses ready!

Here's how the information is organized: Each program is denoted with a circle. The size of the circle is proportionate to the program's funding level. Next to each circle, there are figures for: spending budgeted for 2012; the percent increase/decrease in spending from 2011 to 2012; and the percent change from 2002 to 2012 to show the decade-long trend.

2012 is an election year, so we will be subjected to more than the usual amount of misleading rhetoric regarding taxes and government spending. We owe it to ourselves to separate fact from fiction. Get one of these posters. Tack it up on a wall where your family, friends, coworkers or students can see it. And get the conversation started.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Free Speech on Vacation

We Americans pride ourselves on freedom of speech - except for when we don't.

I was back east over the holidays visiting my son and his wife. The weather was pleasant - sunny and warm for late December. So we went sight-seeing. As we were strolling the streets of a lovely, scenic seaside town (whose name will be revealed at the end of this post), my son pointed to this sign.

"What do you think that sign says, Mom?" he asked. Thinking it was a joke, I said, "I don't know - no swearing?" "Yup," he answered. Still thinking it might be a joke, I started to look more closely at signs posted along the street. I saw that these "no cursing" signs appear all along the main street. Apparently, folks around here are not kidding. (Which naturally made me WANT to cuss up a blue streak. There's nothing like being told "no" to make an activity irresistible.)

In case visitors don't get the message, posted in between the "no swearing" signs are more signs, each with a reminder about "language:"
Reading this, I had to laugh. I live in a beach community, too. I know what it is like to have your neighborhood taken over by thousands of strangers the moment the sun comes out. Most of the people who show up are respectful of others and don't have to be told what the "rules" are. And the people who disturb the peace - don't read signs. 

Surely the good people of Virginia Beach, Virginia, can find better uses for their tax dollars.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Zumba!

I've been on a quest to find the ideal exercise program for some time now. It has been a while, but I do remember what it feels like to be in shape and enjoy a good workout. I want that feeling back in my life. Since my hip surgery 3 years ago, I've tried tai chi, pilates, and yoga, but none of them really satisfied me.

And then I tried Zumba! Zumba is a Latin-inspired, dance fitness program that combines upbeat music with moves from salsa, merengue, samba, cha cha, hip hop and even belly dancing. No matter how old you are or what shape you are in, you can do this. Honestly, if I can do it, you can, too. There are three of us in my class who are over the age of 60 and we have so much FUN!

Zumba fits my definition of the ideal workout. It challenges me, but isn't so demanding that I get discouraged or hurt myself. It builds core strength and helps improve my balance. It is aerobic exercise so I get a pleasant endorphin glow that lasts for hours afterward. It opens up my aging joints and gives me more flexibility. I am famously uncoordinated and Zumba helps me connect my body to my brain. It is a mental exercise, as well, because it involves learning a new skill and remembering dance steps.

Zumba is affordable, too. In Seattle, classes are offered at most community centers and YMCA facilities and fees range from around $7 - $12 per class. If you live in an area where classes are not available, you can get Zumba dvds from Amazon (see link above). Zumba is also available for Wii and XBox systems.

Here's a sample video to give you an idea of a few dance steps. There are dozens more to watch on YouTube. Enjoy!