Margaret J. Krauss

Tiny tales and big ideas.

My tax prep program asked if I was dead.

The answer, thankfully, is no.

But if the answer had been yes, that would mean that someone was filing my taxes for me. I imagine that taxes are filed on behalf of the deceased fairly frequently. And it must be strange.

Someone you know, either a family member or a client, has died. You knew them as a living, breathing, currency-earning human who has been reduced–for the purposes of paying taxes–to a check you place in a box.

It got me thinking about all the boxes we use all the time: boxes to mail things, boxes to separate things like laundry or dry goods, boxes for transit, boxes to mark yes and no. Boxes for the dead. So many boxes.

That last one seems so final and somber–Did you die?

But when it’s paired with this very specific addition–Did you die before April 15 with your taxes undone?–the whole thing seems farcical. And suddenly paying taxes was a pleasure.

“Projects” on the New York Times

The Internet is like an outlandish family tree. You can swing from branch to branch and learn anything you ever wanted to know.  

Curious how red velvet cake and bean-hole baked beans are related? 

They fall under the tag “projects.” (You always did look like your Uncle P. You take after their side of the family.)

The New York Times has an Internet catacomb of culinary challenges I never knew existed tagged simply, projects. 

It’s incredible. You can spend weekend upon weekend learning to bake a Chinese specialty chicken dish. You just need 11 pounds of sculptor’s clay. Or perhaps you’re more a Brazilian-style fudge ball kinda guy. I respect that. As well as your pursuit for the perfect chocolate ice cream

My discovery, like most personal revelations, will not be news to the general public. But isn’t the Internet wondrous?  

Pittsburgh Magazine – 2014 Weddings Issue

To all those Pittsburgh brides- and grooms-to-be, Pittsburgh Magazine puts out a wedding book each year that documents city-grown romances and weddings. Each article includes which vendors the couple used and beautiful photographs. I had the fun of writing up three couples this year. Check ‘em aht! 

Kevin Hu and Anna Dabrishus

Leigh Argentieri and David Ryan Coogan

Jon and Johanna Chastek 

What What Why

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Thanks to a Seed Award from the Sprout Fund, I’ve been able to take an idea I had for a weekly radio show and turn it into reality. The idea is fairly simple: there are lots of older people in the United States. There are lots of younger people in the United States. Both groups of people face questions of purpose, well-being, and grapple with those what-the-heck-is-life-about-anyway sorts of thoughts. 

What if, I thought. What if those two groups of people could swap notes and use stories to do it? To me, a well-told story is the shortest distance between two people. And the only way I’ve ever learned anything. (Except for the chemistry. That was rote memorization). 

After a lot of interviews and several planning notebooks, I’ve finally launched the show. It’s now two episodes old. Though it’s far from perfect, I think it’s on to something: we have a lot to learn from one another, regardless of age, economic or social background, gender, religion, or favorite sandwich. 

But it can be better, and I want to make sure it is. Come tell me a story sometime. We’ll figure out what it means. 

Life is mad. Let’s talk about it. 

whatwhatwhy.com 

 

How To Make Something Out of Nothing

 

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http://www.thebeautyshoppe.org/journal/video-bayardstown-social-club

Innovation studio Deep Local transformed a vacant Strip District lot into a vibrant, members-run social club. Kind of like coworking – for after hours.

(Originally published 10.11.13 by The Beauty Shoppe)

How Allegheny County is working to ensure a rabies-free summer for all

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Meeko, the chummy, charming raccoon companion of Disney’s Pocahontas / Disney 

(Where have those paws been?)

Let’s talk about rabies for a moment, shall we?

Like most kids I had a vague idea of what rabies was growing up, but it centered mainly on the terror of taking a shot of anti-rabies vaccine to the stomach in case of infection.

Now, an urban-dwelling adult removed from deep summer back yard fears, rabies isn’t something I think a lot about. That is, until the Allegheny County Executive’s office  sent out two press releases in as many weeks regarding the prevention and eradication of rabies in the area.

Rabies attacks the central nervous system, producing initial symptoms as innocuous as weakness, headache, or fever. If the virus goes unchecked, however, one’s steady decline is marked by anxiety, insomnia, full or partial paralysis and ends in death.

Six reported rabid raccoons and six rabid bats have the County on high alert. During these lovely days of summer, pets are vulnerable to being bitten, which increases the chances that their humans might suffer a chomp to the leg. 

To prevent that sort of thing, two programs are under way. 

For the twelfth year running, the county is participating in the Raccoon Rabies Vaccination Campaign, which sounds as though citizen-soldiers are taking up arms in the urban theater to face the enemy; he of clean paws and reprehensible snacking habits.

As it turns out, that image is not too far from the truth: Health Department workers, wearing protective gloves and driving vehicles marked as part of the Rabies Control Team, hand-distributed 230,000 raccoon baits laced with rabies vaccines.

The release asked for city residents’ help:

To ensure raccoons are hungry and will eat the bait, the Health Department also is asking the public to make a special effort to bring indoors pet food that raccoons might eat and make sure garbage containers kept outdoors have secure lids, perhaps even tied down with a rope or bungee cord, to keep away raccoons foraging for food. 

As for bats, they can squeeze through opening as small as 3/8 of an inch; a nibble from such a diminutive creature might go unnoticed. For that reason, the county has asked that any contact with a bat be reported to the Health Department by calling 412-687-ACHD (2243).

If you are concerned, the press release recommends the following: 

If you find a bat and are unsure whether you’ve been exposed, wear a pair of heavy-duty gloves and capture the bat by placing a container such as a large bowl over it and sliding a piece of cardboard underneath to trap the bat inside. Cover the container with a lid or cap.  Call your local animal control officer to capture the bat and euthanize it for testing, if you are unable to do so yourself.

Starving out raccoons and trapping bats aren’t things I feel particularly equipped to do. Hats off to the County employees and volunteers who are doing just that. They’re all Atticus Finches in my book. 

This American Life in Reverse: Episode 499, or, that time we abandoned our principles

After listening to TAL episode 499, Taking Names, I could only sit, stunned, in the middle of my floor and wail, “Why didn’t we use the Guam option?”

After the invasion of Iraq, Kirk Johnson worked in-country for USAID, the government entity responsible for dispersing foreign aid. Though an accident kept him from returning to his work, he couldn’t get out of Iraq: He began receiving entreaties from Iraqi colleagues asking for help. Because they had aided the US, their lives were in danger.

After years of struggling to help these refugees successfully navigate the draconian immigration process, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq act was passed. It created a Special Immigrant Visa program that allotted 25,000 visas, 5,000 a year for five years, for Iraqis and Afghanis who had aided the US.

The bill was hamstrung, however, by lawyers in the Bush Administration. In its first year, only 172 visas were given. Meanwhile, men and women who had assisted the US at their own risk feared for their lives. We abandoned our responsibility as a country to our allies. Not just in the bill, the episode’s producer, Nancy Updike, reveals, but also in ignoring other diplomatic options. We could have airlifted all of the people who helped us to Guam. It has been done before.

Why didn’t we? For a country that prides itself on being a nation of immigrants, a nation that believes in morals, in standing up for what’s right, how could we abandon those who helped us? There was fear that we would admit terrorists, but the Iraqis and Afghanis that worked contractually with the US were not terrorists. They were working with the US armed forces, among other entities, and were carefully screened.

After listening to this episode I couldn’t help but think that, despite our myriad ways of learning about the world, we don’t lack communication, we lack action. There should be more outcry about this. This should be a matter of national concern. Though from the episode, maybe I’m already years too late.

A brief dive into why millennials are not going to drive the country into the ground (while staring at their iThings)

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A refurbished 1950’s railcar, 24 millennials, seven cities, and ten days. The Millennial Trains Project (MTP) is a crowdfunded social capital machine. Bent on moving the nation forward, MTP brings together millennials who not only think they can change the world, but believe they have a responsibility to do so. 

Millennials–those ages 18 to 30–have gotten a lot of bad press: we’re lazy, apathetic, and narcissistic. But spending the morning with MTP, a group that includes Pittsburgh’s own Lindsay Patross (of I Heart Pgh fame), made me feel as though “they” got it all wrong.

It would be harder to imagine a more engaged, harder-working, or innovative bunch of people than those riding the rails with MTP. Over the course of four hours I began to feel hopeful about the future of my generation. Instead of a narrative of vitriol or fear, theirs is one of examining existing systems and reengineering them to effectively respond to current and future challenges.

In short, they gave me a lot to think about, and some of those observations will be in a radio post on Tuesday. Til then, I’ll be pondering what it means to be an American millennial. 

It doesn’t seem like isolationism is an option anymore

Historically, the US has adhered to a foreign policy of isolationism, or non-intervention. The Department of State’s Office of the Historian* writes that isolationism really took hold between the two World Wars, though it had influenced our approach to international relations long before that. (Thomas Paine, for instance, warned against alliances in Common Sense.)

Isolationism does not prescribe non-action, per se, so much as trying to avoid political and military conflicts. It’s sort of the diplomatic equivalent of a risk and reward balance sheet.

This morning, the New York Times reported that the death toll in Egypt had surpassed 500. That would be like if my high school’s graduating class were completely wiped out. President Obama made his first comment on the recent violence and canceled military exercises with Egypt, though said nothing of cutting the $1.3 billion Egypt receives in military aid.

Though no one would describe US foreign policy as isolationist these days, it seems vestiges of the mindset remain. All of our actions have consequences, but so too do our dollars.

From today’s NYT article by David D. Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell:

At one landmark mosque, relatives stood over the bodies of up to 240 dead, shrouded in white and laid out in neat rows. The ice keeping the bodies chilled was melting as household fans played over the makeshift morgue. Many of the bodies seemed to be badly burned. One man slumped against a pillar, his face contorted in grief. By Muslim tradition, the deceased are usually buried within 24 hours of dying.

 

*That we have an Office of the Historian is pretty brilliant. I applaud the idea of institutional memory.

This American Life in Reverse: Episode 500, or, the anatomy of a great story

TAL celebrated 500 episodes a few weeks ago with a sort of “best of,” asking producers to play bits of their favorite episodes. Among all the standout moments, the hinge point for me was the set-up for a September 2005 episode (296, After the Flood), that originally aired just after Hurricane Katrina.

The piece in question is a long interview with Denise Moore, one of many people trapped in the New Orleans Convention Center. Producer Robyn Semien, who didn’t work for the show at the time the episode aired, says the news landscape at the time was saturated with Katrina, “but just hearing it, I didn’t really have a way to let it affect me until I heard one woman’s experience and to let her kind of lay out exactly what was going on.” She adds, “I mean, I don’t think I fully realized how desperate I was at the time to have something make sense until I heard this.”

That need to connect, to make sense, is prominent in our national conversation, and it’s a need TAL seems to strive to answer. In producing After the Flood, Glass says, they asked themselves what they could add to the coverage of the storm instead of simply joining the media scrum. 

Glass says, “We thought the one contribution we could make was just to let people talk, longer. You know, it’s easier to connect, emotionally, when you hear more. And so, Denise is one of the interviews where this happens.”

It struck me (Warning: Obvious Conclusion Ahead) that really great stories (“great” being stories that connect, that engage, that make an impact) do not follow one model. They grow out of their surroundings, taking into account the needs of their audiences while remaining true to their subjects.

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