Instead of prayer and meditation…

It is 2:20 AM. I awoke Tuesday morning sick with a cold or the flu or somatic manifestations of despair–certainly not confined to the tax bill, but a sense of hopelessness that after Elizabeth聽MacDonough, Parliamentarian of the Senate, raised what is referred to colloquially as “the Byrd bath” before Christmas President Trump will sign a soak the poor bill with devastating economic consequences.


Deror avi, Detail of the Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem: Hillel the Elder teaching a man the meaning of the whole Torah while he stands on one foot











All day, sweaty and exhausted, I have been reluctant or unable to get out of bed–in and out of restless sleeping, hoping for a respite where I might set aside an hour to put my mind in order following the considerable distractions of the week. Seeking for focus now that I am hopeful that at this unlikely time this may be the appropriate hour, I ritualistically clean my glasses.


Ideally, this would be an excellent time to say my prayers or meditate making use of a mantra helpful for launching the wiping clean of temporal thoughts. The best prayer is already on my lips. In Hebrew. Designed to be said first thing in the morning but one I say periodically over the course of the day.

诪讜止讚侄讛 讗植谞执讬 诇职驻指谞侄讬讱指 诪侄诇侄讱职 讞址讬 讜职拽址讬旨指诐, 砖讈侄讛侄讞直讝址专职转旨指 讘旨执讬 谞执砖讈职诪指转执讬 讘旨职讞侄诪职诇指讛. 专址讘旨指讛 讗直诪讜旨谞指转侄讱指.

“I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.”


The appropriate mantra is the first of three rhetorical questions.

讗诐 讗讬谉 讗谞讬 诇讬, 诪讬 诇讬

“[Rabbi Hillel]聽is popularly known as the author of two sayings: (1) If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?’ and (2) the expression of the聽ethic of reciprocity, or ‘Golden Rule’: ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole聽Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.'”


Prayer and meditation are denied me. Instead, a jumble of distractions cause restlessness. If I begin describing one of the distractions, I may linger too long and fail to provide an understanding of the sense of being overwhelmed. Here are six concerns (not all, but an arbitrary listing of serious issues that readily come to mind competing and too often interfering with the focus required for resolution).

  1. Here at Addison Court, the apartment complex where I live, the danger of fire and I am convinced more serious than fire itself the danger of panic when fire alarms go off in this partially defend in place building where a substantial number of residents are mobility disabled. Addison Court, in the heart of Downtown State College–across the street from Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe–is a low income residence for the elderly and for those with physical and emotional disabilities. At Addison Court, the designated fire escape route is not wheel chair accessible. Instead, those of us with mobility disabilities (especially those living on floors two through eight) must wait for a fire woman or man to rescue us in the event of fire.

According to Steve Bair, Centre County’s excellent fire chief, there may be as many as 30 residences in the Borough of State College where a portion of the residents should be mindful that defend in place is their best safety measure.

Addison Court is in the advantageous position of being constructed of brick and of having an excellent sprinkler system. Five years ago, with the enthusiastic assistance of Mayor Elizabeth Goreham and with Steve Bair working closely with then Police Chief Thomas King the dangers of panic–responded quickly and effectively.聽 The panic was averted. The panic had manifested itself in such dangerous behavior as residents throwing wheel chairs down the stairs–were averted with education and other measures including residents establishing a volunteer group (patrols on each floor).

In January, with the assistance of Addison Court’s efficient property manager Jim Hook, fire safety education will resume in the social hall/bingo parlor (where Lady Gaga has yet to accept an invitation to perform). Two weeks ago, having set up a meeting with Steve Bair, I asked Tom King (now retired as a police chief but working full time as a Borough Council staff member) for assistance. Consequently, Police Captain Mathew E. Wilson and Police Officer with a community relations portfolio joined us at Alpha Fire Company–an encouraging meeting. It is also worth noting that the current State College Police Chief聽John Gardner, whose career has been based here in the community, is a strong supporter of cooperation with Alpha Fire and Steve Bair.


Two die in a Wilkes-Barre, PA fire. The building is disturbingly similar to the low income high rise where I live with 89 other residents in Downtown State College.












Last week, Fire Chief Steve Bair told me about the disturbing deaths on December 5th of two residents at a multi-story apartment building in Wilkes Borough–a building disturbingly similar to Addison Court.

“Smoke was seen pouring out of the balcony of a fifth-floor apartment as fire crews evacuated the building, a public housing complex run by the Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority, reported聽Bob Kalinowski for the Scranton-based “The Times-Tribune.”

鈥淭he firefighters really had their hands full. Hundreds of people live in this building. They not only had to go in and extinguish the fire, but they had to rescue the occupants,鈥 Delaney said. 鈥淭he firefighters did an impeccable job. Yes, there were two people who didn鈥檛 make it out, but 150 or 160 people did without injury.鈥

Initially, fire crews called for ladder trucks from surrounding towns to come rescue people who fled to their outdoor balconies, but they decided against that option after getting a good initial attack on the fire, Delaney said.


We residents at Addison Court are eagerly anticipating Lady Gaga’s acceptance of our invitation to perform at our social hall/bingo parlor. There, late in January, Fire Chief Steve Bair will be distributing ear plugs to muffle the sound of the fire alarm. Do not be concerned, Lady G, we will remove the ear plugs when you perform.









2. At Mount Nittany Medical Center and HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, patient outcome would be improved as well as employee moral if professionals in the field were to incorporate art and music into our hospitals.

3. A major effort is required to reduce the infant mortality rate in central PA and promote efforts to prevent women from having avoidable deaths–as are taking place in Texas–during childbirth.

4. The Commonwealth must pass legislation to ensure the intentions of the Americans with Disability Act are made a reality. Currently, a restaurant in State College was able to receive an operating license because it complied with the letter of the law and not its spirit. The restaurant spent more than the $4 thousand dollars to meet its disability requirement. It fulfilled its requirement by installing a wheel-chair accessible toilet. However, it did not first make sure the entrance is accessible–which it is not.

5. Last week Ed LeClair, who is in charge of planning for the Borough of State College, told me his department has no information on the current and future impact on the economy of the Borough of Foxdale and other upscale retirement communities which are growing in size.

6. On Valentine’s Day 2018, I am seeking funds to visit Stuttgart, Arkansas to research a forthcoming book on how to feed the 20 million people in the world currently starving to death. Arkansas is the largest rice-producing state in the U.S. Stuttgart is home to Riceland Funds, an important grain and soybean trading company. The technical savvy of Arkansas’s rice farmers could be critical to helping Zimbabwe improve its rice production. Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of the region of southern Africa. Restoring its ability to help Africa be self-sufficient in food production is critical in any effort to prevent unnecessary deaths from starvation.



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Protect disabled, elderly from fires and disasters

From Where I Sit: My column in Voices of Central Pennsylvania, November 2010

My only experience with an earthquake was in the Silicon Valley of California.聽 I was staring at my broken computer when the earth moved beneath me. The following day The San Jose Mercury News put the earthquake on page one because of its intensity and also contained an editorial on the importance of being prepared.

My home (wife, two daughters, two cats) was back in North Carolina.聽 There I had worked in Research Triangle Park for two years (focusing on linking a computer to a telephone switch) had disappeared. Without warning jobs in documentation had become the moral equivalent of famine where two years previously had been feast. [At聽 a Northern Telecom job interview I had been told being a technical writer had secured me a guaranteed income for life (gold watch and all)] .

At the same time as my gold watch turned into costume jewelry, my ability to walk disappeared. I had gone from being able to jog on the beautifully wooded track on the corporate campus, to being unable to stand without holding onto something, to tripping on my toes and dislocating my right shoulder.


聽An extensive search of databases showed San Jose, California, could not hire technical writers quickly enough. A longtime friend had extra room nearby and invited me to go west. I was hired immediately. I fell three times during a critical interview. My cane could not hold my weight. I had not yet acquired my first mobility device, a frontwheel drive scooter.


聽After my third fall, directly in front of my prospective boss鈥 feet, Vicki, who was in charge of the corporate quality assurance team, said, 鈥淒on鈥檛 worry. We have to hire you.鈥 The reason I had to be hired was that the company, a global leader in computer wafer inspection devices, needed a writer for its new product which could predict when a wafer in the production process would be faulty and remove it from its production line on a timely basis. What the company had not prepared for was any safety orientation for disabled workers.



聽These details are relevant to the evolution of fire safety policies at Addison Court in downtown State College. They are relevant because first, until recently the idea of protecting the disabled and elderly from fire and other emergencies was low on our society鈥檚 consciousness. Second, limiting safety and access to one location and one building has long-term negative consequences to our country鈥檚 economy鈥攁n economy which to its detriment fails to make use of the talent of its disabled and elderly population.


聽R e g a r d i n g safety at Addison Court, a residence for 90 elderly and disabled individuals, where as a result of faulty fire alarms about two years ago, we learned from Steve Bair, fire director of Centre County鈥檚 Council of Governments (COG) and head of Alpha Fire Company, the proper way of evacuating a building made of brick with adequate sprinklers:

Do not evacuate. Wait for the fire company to come. Evacuation of disabled and elderly residents (in a multi-story building), especially when they have power chairs, wheel chairs, and the like, can induce panic.


聽More on this do not evacuate concept which the fire authorities refer to as 鈥渄efend in place鈥 later. It makes good economic sense to protect disabled and elderly individuals from dying or being hurt in a fire or in some other disaster. A larger question is whether this society has the will to pay for safety, the understanding of where safety belongs in our order of priorities, and the willingness to teach and implement concepts like 鈥渄efend in place.鈥

The most recent available Census Department statistics for Centre County (based on a 2006-2008 estimate) shows a total population of a little more than 144,000; 45,000 residents are 45 years old and older. Nearly 16,000 residents range in age from 65 years to over 85. What is the cost to Centre County and society at large to keeping these 16,000 residents safe and productive if many of them require special safety procedures? Who should pick up the tab? IWe need to invest in quieter, gentler fire alarms so that residents stay in place until the fire trucks come.

Several subjects require elaboration on the webpage: direct your browser to future blogs on the following subects:

  • Administrative efforts to reduce panic.
  • The continuation of my meandering earthquake story and where it fits into a larger picture.
  • Plans to make Lady Gaga Fire Prevention Celebrity for Centre County.

鈥擩oel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food. For a continuation of themes raised in this column, see Joel;s blog at me how you liked the photograph of Lady Gaga and an illustrated critique of her disability-related video Paparazzi.

Firefighter Love: From Addison Court Report February, 2009

[Note: Addison Court is an independent living facility in Downtown State College for citizens aged 55 and older and individuals with disabilities. Many of its residents are aged 70, 80, and 90. Last year we had problems with faulty fire alarms which demonstrted residents did not know what to do when the alarm went off at 1:30 in the morning. The residents formed a fire safety committee with wardens to provide assistance on each of the building’s 8 floors. We were trained by Steve Bair, Council of Governments Director of the Office of Fire Administration. A major part of the training consisted of what to do when the excellent Alpha Company, four blocks away, comes to help us in the event of fire. Alpha’s Chief is Keith Yocum]

Hug a Firefighter Two Days After Valentine鈥檚
at Noon or 6:30; Get a Bowl of Chili

This invitation has 6 parts (some of which the author did not complete because he is too wordy):

  • Details of the Tuesday February 16th event at the Addison Court social hall. There will be two sittings; Noon and 6:30 PM. Feel free to go to one or the other and fill out the signup sheet. Be there or be square.
  • Why hug a firefighter (male or female) from the Alpha Fire Company鈥檚 Main Office on Beaver and Atherton. [No question mark required.]
  • What to do in the case of a fire.
  • Come spring you can bring your grandchildren to the fire house and see the pretty trucks. When 83 year-old Lillian Hutchison swings down the fire pole I want to take a photograph.
  • Participation as a fire warden鈥攖he Arnold Addison Court Fire Safety Committee, Carol Ames co-chair, needs you to volunteer as a part time FIRE WARDEN so we can have back up wardens in case your floor鈥檚 regular fire warden decides to spend two days gambling in Harrisburg. Please give Sherry your name and I will get back to you.
  • As my maternal grandmother once told me (and she was a wild one) when it comes to hugging, be moderate.


  • One hundred bowls of Webster鈥檚 Bookstore and Caf茅鈥檚 famous vegetarian chili will be served at the noon and 6:30 sittings.
  • That chili will be served to our frontline firefighters, you, Steve Bair, Council of Governments Director of the Office of Fire Administration, Alpha Chief Keith Yocum, Alpha鈥檚 Jackie Richardson, and government officials.
  • Residents are asked to provide additional food and cash donations.

In the event of a fire:

  1. Call 911 and report (even if you are not sure if someone else has reported). Addison Court is a safe building. It has an excellent sprinkler system. The biggest danger to residents is if we panic and do not rely on our fire wardens and most importantly the men and women of Alpha Fire Company to come and tell us what to do. Even on the 8th floor, Alpha firefighters will know how to get you and your power chair safely out of the building.
  2. Relax. Stay in your apartment and wait for your floor鈥檚 fire warden. It takes fewer than 10 minutes for Alpha firefighters to get in their trucks and come here.

During that time:

Do NOT take the elevator. Do NOT go downstairs. Do NOT evacuate the building. Listen to your fire warden who may decide to have you move to the stair well to wait for Alpha. If you move, be
sure to close your door. One reason it might be a good idea to move is because there might be smoke
and staying on your floor but moving to a stair well where there is no smoke will make your
breathing easier.

**Note well; Your February 16th hug will not save your life. It will make you feel better to know
you expressed appreciation before you needed help.

–Joel Solkoff, co-chair, Arnold Addison Court Fire Safety Committee.